MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

It has been another violent day in Iraq. A car bomb in southwest Baghdad killed 30 people and scattered mortar attacks killed and wounded many more around the city.

Despite the violence, the U.S. military says there are signs of progress in the effort to clear out insurgents in and around Baghdad. But on a personal inspection of the city's neighborhoods, General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said success may take more time than Washington is willing to give.

NPR's Rachel Martin reports.

RACHEL MARTIN: For General David Petraeus, taking a walk around Baghdad is not a simple affair. It takes a lot of planning, coordination and a lot of soldiers - at least two dozen of them, most are U.S. Army, some are Iraqi. The main street in Kadhimiyah in north Baghdad has been blocked off and lined with armed vehicles so the general can walk around and try to get a sense of the place.

Along the way, Petraeus points at a colorful market bustling with traffic and shoppers and the focal point of the neighborhood.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (Commander, Multinational Force, Iraq): To ride around that you could see here to your front there it's one of the holiest Shia shrines, the Kadhimiyah shrine.

MARTIN: Kadhimiyah is controlled largely by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army. And it has seen relatively little sectarian violence. The general stops at a café pre-selected by Iraqi army officials. He shakes hands with the owner and asks if the tea is any good.

Gen. PETRAEUS: So tell me, the chai here is any good?

Unidentified Man #1: Chai is good. Chai is good.

MARTIN: These are the kinds of interactions General Petraeus wants to use to gauge success in Iraq as he advocates in the Army's counter insurgency manual, which he authored. How many businesses are open, how many kids are in school, does it feel safe to walk down the street? But he's inherited a war that he says require some other measuring sticks: the number of insurgents killed, sectarian murder rates, car bombs.

Petraeus is a week and a half into the most significant U.S. offensive in Iraq to happen under his watch. And while dozens of al-Qaida members have been killed and some key insurgents strongholds have been cleared, Petraeus says that's just the first step.

Gen. PETRAEUS: We're still at the harder-before-it-gets-easier point in that regard as we go into these sanctuaries that al-Qaida has had for, in some cases, for several years and rest them away from al-Qaida and their affiliates, and then try to create the structures that can hold them.

MARTIN: And holding those areas means getting the Iraqi security forces up to snuff so they can keep the insurgents out.

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking foreign language)

MARTIN: Sitting inside the sweltering hot cafe in Kadhimiyah, Petraeus sips a small cup of tea, a local Iraqi army colonel at his side. Building up the Iraqi army and police has been a difficult work in progress. There are widespread issues of corruption and questions about loyalty. Even here in Kadhimiyah, some members of the Iraqi security forces have links to the Shiite militias. And elsewhere, U.S. forces have trained auxiliary police forces often made up of former Sunni militia members who've recently decided to join the U.S. fight against al-Qaida. Petraeus says it gets down to fundamentals.

Gen. PETRAEUS: You have to applaud somebody who decides to turn his weapon on al-Qaida instead of on you.

MARTIN: And while these alliances may change over time, Petraeus says they are a crucial tool in this war for now and a short term is what General Petraeus has been forced to think about. The current surge in U.S. forces began in February and the last of the 30,000 troops only arrived a few weeks ago. Petraeus has been given until September to show that the surge has been able to change the momentum in Iraq.

Gen. PETRAEUS: The rucksack of responsibility is very, very heavy.

MARTIN: Petraeus stands on the sidewalk in Kadhimiyah surrounded by Humvees and his security detail. The 55-year-old four-star general says this is the toughest job he's ever had. He describes what he calls a reservoir of bad news.

Gen. PETRAEUS: If there's a good day it sort of drains slowly, and if it's a bad day, it starts to fill up, and we've obviously had some days where it has filled up and I don't know over time whether, you know, there's a limit to that.

MARTIN: A few hours after Petraeus left Kadhimiyah, a car bomb exploded in a busy square just a couple of miles from where the general was having tea. The explosion killed at least 10 people and wounded more than a dozen. Petraeus insists that the surge is helping root out the militants who wage these attacks. But he also says winning a counterinsurgency requires more than killing the enemy. And in the end, any real long-term solution in Iraq has got to be a political one.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Baghdad.

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