Preview: A Conversation with Gen. Petraeus

Monday on Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep speaks with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. We preview that conversation.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

U.S. troops were on the offensive in Iraq today, firing an artillery barrage in southern Baghdad. The U.S. military also reports rounding up 72 suspected insurgents and bomb-making materials during raids in a Sunni stronghold. The activity comes a day after 68 people were killed by a suicide car bomb in a Shiite holy city.

General David Petraeus says Iraq is the most complex environment he's seen. In an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep on MORNING EDITION tomorrow, the U.S. commander in Iraq discusses the challenges of fighting insurgents, militias, death squads and al-Qaida.

STEVE INSKEEP: Do you believe that the way the war is being fought now that you're following the advice of the counterinsurgency manual that you supervised the production of before you came to Iraq?

General DAVID PETRAEUS (U.S. Army Commander in Iraq): Well, we're certainly trying to do that, yeah. I would point out the counterinsurgency in Iraq is a mix of many different types of operations. It's actually counterterrorism when it comes to al-Qaida and some of the other extremists, and by that, I mean precise operations, intelligence driven; but you do, certainly, classical counterinsurgency when it comes to dealing with perhaps the Sunni rejectionists, as you call them, or the old - the Saddamists. There's also almost counter-gang operations countering criminals who are taking advantage of the absence of the rule of law.

INSKEEP: When you look at that manual, it gives a rule of thumb for the number of troops you need, as you know well.

Gen. PETRAEUS: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: It says roughly, for every thousand people in the population, you need 20 soldiers.

Gen. PETRAEUS: Yeah.

INSKEEP: You do the math on that for Iraq, it would say you need half a million troops…

Gen. PETRAEUS: Well, you don't…

INSKEEP: …which you don't have.

Gen. PETRAEUS: Yeah, you don't need to do that everywhere in Iraq by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, for starters, you don't need virtually any coalition in the Iraqi-Kurdish regions, and you need…

INSKEEP: Well, let's just do the numbers for Baghdad. Five million people, you'd need 100,000.

Gen. PETRAEUS: Baghdad would be somewhere around…

INSKEEP: Do you have 100,000?

Gen. PETRAEUS: What we have with coalition and Iraqi forces, just those alone, is about 80,000. And you then actually have to factor in some other interesting contributors, and of all things, private contractors are among those. Let me give you an example. The embassy is secured by private contractors. The airport is secured by it. So you carry this across, there are tens of thousands, security contractors, just in Baghdad alone, performing missions that would otherwise have to be performed by Iraqi or coalition forces.

ELLIOTT: More from General Petraeus tomorrow morning on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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