STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. President Bush told reporters yesterday that the U.S. cannot afford to lose in Iraq. For one correspondent, that left open the question of how the U.S. can win.

Unidentified Woman: You keep saying that you don't want to leave. But is your strategy to win working? Even if you don't want to leave, you've gone into Baghdad before. These things have happened before.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: If I didn't think it would work, I would change this - our commanders would recommend changing the strategy. They believe it'll work.

MONTAGNE: This morning we'll listen to one commander shaping that strategy. General George W. Casey is the senior American commander in Iraq.

INSKEEP: We reach General Casey at a moment when more than 3,000 Iraqis are being killed each month. Some of the worst violence is in Baghdad, and that prompted the U.S. to put off plans to reduce its forces. Troops moved to Baghdad instead. So we asked if Baghdad is safer than two months ago.

General GEORGE W. CASEY (Senior American Commander in Iraq): It is, actually. But we have a long way to go, Steve. We've actually seen a positive trend over the last five weeks here. Too early to say that this is going to last, but the operations that we've been doing have had a positive impact.

INSKEEP: When you say the operations you're doing, you're talking about the operations in which very hazardous neighborhoods have all but been sealed off and U.S. troops have been moving block by block with Iraqi troops, right?

Gen. CASEY: Yes. U.S. troops, Iraqi troops, Iraqi police going through, clearing every house and then reestablishing Iraqi security presence in those areas.

INSKEEP: Why weren't Iraqi forces able to improve the situation in Baghdad on their own?

Gen. CASEY: They're not quite ready yet, Steve. We've been on a program here for about the last 18 months - actually longer - to transition security to the Iraqis. We're a little over halfway through that process. So they weren't quite ready. And as we worked with them to build a new scheme here in Baghdad, it was clear to us that we needed a little more coalition assistance. So that's why I brought the additional forces in.

INSKEEP: General, I know people can assemble statistics that make it look like you're going great and statistics that make it look like you're doing terribly in Iraq. But there is one chain of numbers put together by Tom Lasseter of the McClatchy News Service, a reporter who spent a lot of time in Iraq and with U.S. troops. He noted that when Paul Bremer took over in Iraq in 2003, there were 16 insurgent attacks a day. When Iraqis took over sovereignty in 2004 it was up to 45 attacks a day. When the transitional government was elected last year it got up to 61 attacks a day. By June of this year it was 90 attacks a day. What is happening there over the long term?

Gen. CASEY: That's a fair question. And what we've been seeing here as governments have been formed and people have been uncomfortable with the direction that government was taking the country, they have resorted more and more to violence. And we've also seen more people entering the violence. And since February - when the Samarra mosque was attacked - we have seen an increasing sectarian component to the violence. So it's a more complex situation than it certainly was when we started back three years ago or so.

INSKEEP: Is there a connection - as some news reports have suggested - between turning over more authority to Iraqis and an increase in violence?

Gen. CASEY: That's also a fair question. And we look very, very closely at that, because obviously it's a key element of our strategy to pass these operations, the security operations, off to Iraqi forces. I think it's a misperception for people to think that when we turn areas over to Iraqis, we don't do anything else with them. That's just not the case. We keep our transition teams with them and we continue to provide them enabling support in terms of intelligence, logistics, fire support and those types of things. I do not believe that this rise in violence can be attributed to handing things over to the Iraqis.

INSKEEP: Hm. Have there been situations, though, where it's time to turn things over in a particular part of the country to Iraqis? You know they're not going to do as well as you'd like, or as well as American forces might do. But because of the broader situation you just have to do it?

Gen. CASEY: We don't have to do anything. And it's all conditions-based. And we have a very deliberate process where we prepare the Iraqi forces to hand it over to them. First we build the organizations, train them and equip them. Then we put them in the lead, and that's what you're seeing now. And they're in the lead with our support. And the whole notion is that they will get better faster doing it themselves with us helping them than they would watching us do it. And the next step then is to continue to work with until they can do it independently, and that's what's going to take a little longer.

INSKEEP: General, as you look at this steady, over time increase in the number of insurgent attacks and the amount of insurgent activity, do you believe that U.S. detention centers have been breeding new insurgents?

Gen. CASEY: The short answer is U.S. detention centers aren't breeding them. However, jails and detention centers in any insurgency have always been a place where the people who are in jail have gotten together. And we have some programs in place to mitigate that to the extent we can, but it's a historical fact that it's impossible to completely separate these folks and keep them from getting together in the detention centers.

The other thing I'd say about the violence levels, though - violence can't be the measure of success here. Violence is something that is generated by the insurgents. The fact of the matter is that even though there are violent acts that we count - and we count them for our own purposes to get some sense - but the majority, the vast majority of attacks aren't effective. They're - it's noise. And the attacks can be one round fired from a rifle to a car bomb. And people take numbers that we track for our own purposes and extrapolate that into a measure of success. And it's just, you know, you shouldn't be put in a position where your success is judged by enemy actions.

INSKEEP: Well, Gen. Casey, thanks very much.

Gen. CASEY: Good, Steve. Thanks.

INSKEEP: That's Gen. George Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

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