BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Military force alone is not sufficient to end the violence in Iraq and political talks must eventually include some militant groups now opposing the U.S.-backed government, the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said Thursday.
"This is critical," Gen. David Petraeus said in his first news conference since taking over command last month. He noted that such political negotiations "will determine in the long run the success of this effort."
American troops have stepped up efforts to clear and secure major highways around the capital as part of the Baghdad security crackdown, which began last month. The Pentagon has pledged 17,500 combat troops for the capital.
Petraeus said "it was very likely" that additional U.S. forces will be sent to areas outside the capital where militant groups are regrouping, including the Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.
The region has become an increasingly important staging ground for groups including al-Qaida in Iraq. Meanwhile, many Sunni extremists apparently have shifted to Diyala to escape the Baghdad clampdown.
Petraeus declined to predict the size of the expected Diyala reinforcements.
He said that "any student of history recognizes there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency in Iraq."
"Military action is necessary to help improve security ... but it is not sufficient," Petraeus said. "A political resolution of various differences ... of various senses that people do not have a stake in the successes of Iraq and so forth — that is crucial. That is what will determine, in the long run, the success of this effort."
U.S. officials, including Petraeus' predecessor Gen. George W. Casey Jr., have long expressed the opinion that no military solution to the Iraq crisis was possible without a political agreement among all the ethnic and religious factions — including some Sunni insurgents.
However, previous overtures to the insurgents all faltered, apparently because of political opposition within Baghdad or Washington to some of the conditions.