Army General Says Security in Baghdad Has Lost Traction

By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007; 5:58 PM

A day after a wave of car bombings killed more than 150 civilians and injured almost 200 others in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asserted today that the U.S. commitment to the Iraq war is not open-ended.

Gates, at a news conference in Tel Aviv before he made a surprise visit to Baghdad, said the debate in Congress over war funding underscores the need for Iraqi lawmakers to pass legislation that addresses political reconciliation and sharing of oil revenues.

"Frankly, I would like to see faster progress," Gates said. " . . . The president has said that our patience is not unlimited. I don't think we've been very subtle in communicating these messages to the Iraqis."

A few hours after Gates arrived in Baghdad, a top Pentagon official said it's still too early to tell whether the nine-week-old American troop surge in the Iraqi capital is working.

Recalling the recent attacks on the heavily fortified Green Zone, Army Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero predicted more violent, high-profile incidents.

"The Green Zone and predominately Shi'a areas remain extremely high priority targets both physically and symbolically for an adaptive, ruthless and thinking enemy looking to make headlines and undermine stability," said Barbero, the deputy director of operations for the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We can expect this enemy to use every means at his disposal, no matter how brutal, to attempt further high profile attacks."

But Barbero said there are glimmers of progress since President Bush ordered an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq in February as part of a U.S.-led crackdown meant to pacify the Iraqi capital.

In Baghdad, attacks on civilians are down about 50 percent, compared with the six-week period before the surge began, Barbero said. Across Iraq, civilian casualties are down 24 percent, he said. Barbero did not offer details on how those statistics were compiled.

"I will tell you that despite these high profile attacks, sectarian murder trends are declining in Baghdad as additional U.S. and Iraqi security forces continue to establish themselves in the neighborhoods," Barbero said.

Yesterday, car bombs killed at least 158 people in several mainly Shiite districts in Baghdad. At least 118 of those people were killed near the busy Sadriya market. Gates called the bombings "horrifying" and accused al-Qaeda of being behind the attacks.

At a news conference today in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who took over as the top U.S. commander in Iraq in February, said the security situation in Baghdad lost "a bit of traction" after yesterday's bombings.

"Yesterday was a bad day, there's no two ways about it," Petraeus said, according to the American Forces Press Service. "And a day like that can have a real psychological impact."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company