By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 8, 2007
BAGHDAD, Jan. 7 -- A top U.S. commander in Iraq said Sunday that previous attempts to halt sectarian killings in Baghdad had failed in part because of a shortage of Iraqi troops and a tight focus on Sunni Arab neighborhoods, and that those lessons would be incorporated into a new strategy to slow the violence in the capital.
Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the number two commander in Iraq, declined to discuss a proposed surge of thousands of additional U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad, saying he preferred to wait for President Bush to outline the policy. But he said he wanted his forces to begin with a push against both Sunni and Shiite fighters and "three or four months from now" retreat to the outskirts of the capital in a supporting role.
Sectarian violence has escalated in Baghdad despite repeated efforts to control it, including last summer's Operation Together Forward, which moved more than 10,000 additional U.S. and Iraqi soldiers into the city. At that time, "we were able to clear areas. We were not able to hold the areas," Odierno said. "We were not able to get security forces in there for an extended period of time that protected the people."
"I think what happened was, is, we overestimated the availability of Iraqi security forces initially; we didn't have enough here," Odierno told reporters at his lakeside residence in Camp Victory, near Baghdad's international airport. "So we have to be able to make sure we have enough forces, Iraqi and coalition, in order to do it this time."
Odierno said the new approach would be "balanced," targeting insurgents and other fighters regardless of their religious affiliation.
"You have to go after both Sunni and Shia neighborhoods," he said. "Together Forward was mostly focused on Sunni neighborhoods, and we've got to do both."
The fighting in Iraq took the lives of five U.S. service members in recent days, the military said. A car bomb Sunday in Baghdad killed three U.S. airmen assigned to a bomb disposal unit of the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron. A fourth airman was injured in the incident.
A U.S. soldier was killed by small-arms fire in southwestern Baghdad on Saturday, and another soldier assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group died from combat wounds in Anbar province in western Iraq.
None of the service members' names was released until their families could be notified.
Also Sunday, the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who leads a powerful militia, and Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an influential Shiite religious leader, met briefly in the holy city of Najaf, according to a Sadr spokesman. During the meeting, Sistani asked Sadr to support the Iraqi government and its security forces, according to the spokesman, Aysam al-Musawi.
Sadr and his increasingly powerful militiamen, accused of hunting down and killing Sunnis, have fought the Americans on several occasions and are a primary American concern. Odierno said Sadr was currently "working within the political system."
"I'm not sure we take him down," he said. "There are some extreme elements . . . that are conducting operations that we don't agree with, and we will go after that."
U.S. and Iraqi leaders say they intend to put Iraqi soldiers in charge of the Baghdad plan, with U.S. forces playing a supporting role. An aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that 20,000 troops would operate in the capital, including additional brigades of Kurdish soldiers from northern Iraq.
The Defense Ministry spokesman, Mohammed al-Askari, said that no Kurdish militiamen, known as pesh merga, would be included in the plan. Hasan Suneid, a Shiite lawmaker, said Kurdish soldiers who are part of the Iraqi army would participate.
Suneid said that Iraqi commanders would be able to operate with greater autonomy and that U.S. soldiers would provide air support and logistics.
"We will start from central Baghdad and move out to the suburbs," Suneid said.
Odierno, 52, said that the U.S. military could provide only a partial solution to Iraq's problems, and that more jobs and provincial elections were key components in regaining the people's trust in the government. He called on Americans to have more patience during the difficult counterinsurgency effort that remains.
"I know how we are, we like number one. We want to win 77 to 7. This is hard to win 77 to 7, militarily. It ain't going to happen," he said, adding: "There is going to be no victory parade when we leave here. There never was going to be."
Special correspondents Waleed Saffar in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.