U.S. Gains in Parts of Iraq in Jeopardy

The Associated Press
Monday, October 9, 2006; 2:28 PM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- For months, soldiers from the 172nd Stryker Brigade fought in riverside towns of western Iraq, trying to clamp off the flow of foreign fighters and suicide bombers that commanders said were terrorizing Baghdad. Now hundreds of these same U.S. soldiers have been sent to deal with what U.S. officials say is an even greater threat _ rising attacks between Sunnis and Shiites in the capital itself.

Left behind in the dusty towns along the Euphrates River in Anbar province are fewer U.S. troops _ and fears that hard-won gains could be in jeopardy from a Sunni Arab insurgency that is far from defeated.

"Seeing the fruits of your labor lost is frustrating," said Capt. David Ramirez of the 4th Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, who was sent to Baghdad from western Iraq.

The shift from Anbar to Baghdad underscores the problems facing the overstretched, 140,000-strong U.S. military force in Iraq.

To secure Baghdad, the Army had to extend the tours of thousands of soldiers from two brigades, including hundreds from the 172nd who had already returned home only to be shipped back to Iraq.

"We do not have sufficient troop strength to secure the entire country simultaneously," Andrew Krepinevich, a military analyst, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Trying to be strong everywhere will lead us to being strong nowhere."

Krepinevich said he had personally recommended drawing down forces in western Anbar to U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Vice President Dick Cheney's staff.

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, defended the new strategy, saying it was necessary to "winning the main effort" in Baghdad.

Chiarelli insisted the troops were moved from the less violent parts of Anbar province.

However, four Marines were killed July 29 by a suicide truck bombing in Rawah even as U.S. soldiers were pulling out of that area.

Commanders in western Anbar have long complained privately that they do not have enough troops to control their area, which is about the size of South Carolina and includes notoriously violent cities such as Haditha, Rawah and Haqlaniyah.

"Any time you reduce forces it's a concern," said Marine Lt. Col. Norm Cooling, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Regiment which is scattered across western Anbar.

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