Petraeus Sees Improvements, Peril in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus gives his first news conference since assuming command of U.S. forces in Iraq. He says insurgents are increasing "sensational attacks" in an effort to thwart U.S. and Iraqi efforts to restore order in Baghdad.
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Petraeus Sees Improvements, Peril in Iraq

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Petraeus Sees Improvements, Peril in Iraq

Petraeus Sees Improvements, Peril in Iraq

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The general now in charge of U.S. forces in Iraq is telling us something that the last commander also said. He says there is no military solution to the problem in Iraq. He says militant groups now opposing the Baghdad government must be brought into the political process.

In the meantime, General David Petraeus says the joint U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown, called Operation Enforcing the Law, is making progress despite a recent upsurge in insurgent attacks.

DAVID PETRAEUS: Regrettably, some of these groups are still carrying out their barbaric acts. In fact, we believe that they have sought to intensify their sensational attacks in recent weeks to provoke renewed sectarian violence and derail Operation (Arabic spoken) before it can be fully implemented.

INSKEEP: (Arabic spoken), that's Arabic for enforcing the law. Those were General David Petraeus' first public comments since taking charge last month. And NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was listening in Baghdad. And Soraya, what does General Petraeus think is needed to turn Iraq around?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, for one thing, he thinks there should be an upsurge at the rate of one battalion a month to help bring security to Baghdad and the key arteries and communities around it. And that process is already underway. American troops are arriving monthly. Daily, in fact, in some cases.

But he says it's too soon to recommend that the surge go past the summer as his deputy, Lieutenant General Odierno, was quoted in the New York Times saying today. And he also says that he will be increasing joint Iraq and U.S. efforts especially in Baghdad neighborhoods not just for security but to help boost reconstruction and bringing services like electricity to people who are really fed up with the circumstances here.

But last but not least, what Petraeus also says is really important is for Iraqi leaders to rise above personal and sectarian agendas to grapple with some of these issues in the months ahead. He lauded their passage, or I should say at least the proposed oil law which they have all come to an agreement on which now needs to be approved by parliament. And he also lauded a recent Iraqi government budget decision to invest $7.3 billion in security, as well as $10 billion in infrastructure.

INSKEEP: This sounds very similar to things that previous commanders in Iraq were trying. The difference here, I gather, is in the approach to those same goals?

SARHADDI NELSON: Yes. It's a much more touchy, feely approach. I went to Sadr city, for example, and saw the Joint Security Station as they call it. That's basically a police station which has been converted into a combined operation with U.S. forces, Iraqi army and Iraqi police. And they're much more personable in their approach. They let Iraqi citizens know ahead of time that they're planning to come in. It's far different than the sort of hostility we've seen in the past.

INSKEEP: Okay. So what are the key challenges then for General Petraeus?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, the main one is time. The security plan takes time. He says it'll be months, not days and weeks. So it's very hard to persuade Iraqis and Americans who want to see troops come home that there needs to be some time to allow some of these measures to really take effect.

On top of that, in recent days we've had an amazing uptake in violence. We've had bombings at book markets, cafes, and especially of note are the attacks of Shiite pilgrims who are heading by the thousands and tens of thousands, in fact, to Karbala in the South for a holy Shiite festival, and they've been a key target.

Petraeus noted that Americans and Iraqis have paid a big price recently because of al-Qaida in Iraq, sectarian militias and criminal elements who are still very active here.

PETRAEUS: It is such violence that Iraqi and coalition forces will work together to reduce in the months ahead. Recognizing to be sure that some sensational attacks inevitably will continue to take place.

INSKEEP: That's General David Petraeus in Baghdad. And Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, have the U.S. forces been anymore visible in battling those kinds of attacks?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, they have not been visible in, let's say, with the Shiite pilgrims, for example, because of religious and cultural sensitivity. Petraeus says they've offered to help, but so far the Iraqi forces have not taken them up on it and he lauded Iraqi security forces for the way they handled it.

But where the U.S. has been more visible is, as I mentioned, in joint security stations, in these neighborhood patrols, in trying to service trainers and helpers and be seen as providing reconstruction.

He did also say that they will be increasing what they refer to as the PRTs, which are basically provincial reconstruction teams. They will be doubling their numbers in order to get out there and provide Iraqis with not just security but with a better life.

INSKEEP: Okay. That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She's in Baghdad, where the new U.S. commander met with reporters today. Soraya, thanks.


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