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Military Announces 8 U.S. Deaths in Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Petraeus had planned to travel Saturday to al-Qaim, an Anbar town on the Syrian border, to meet with tribal leaders and survey a $20 million border terminal under construction.

But low visibility prevented their aircraft from completing the trip, and they could only reach the al-Asad air base in Anbar.

So, with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees, al-Maliki and several of his Cabinet ministers met with the Anbar governor and police and army chiefs. Crocker and Petraeus, meanwhile, were briefed by local U.S. commanders.

Just a few months ago, Anbar was thought to be so strongly in the grip of al-Qaida foreign fighters and Sunni insurgents that it was believed a lost cause, the military officials said.

But al-Qaida went too far, killing several tribal leaders, and terrorizing the local population, said Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin, commander of U.S.-led forces in Anbar.

"All Iraqis live in violence," he said. "They are sick of it, and al-Qaida overplayed its hand in the murder and intimidation campaign."

The fed-up tribal leaders banded together against al-Qaida several months ago and began working with U.S. and Iraqi forces, he said.

"They didn't just fall in love with coalition forces. We had a mutual interest: security," Gaskin said.

Since then, the changes in some parts of the province have been dramatic, he said.

During a recruitment campaign for the Iraqi military and police last summer, only 34 people signed up. Since then, more than 14,000 have joined, Gaskin said.

The increase in Iraqi forces, with their knowledge of the local terrain, helped U.S. and Iraqi troops push most of the insurgents out of the city of Ramadi, or at least drove them underground, he said. A similar operation in Hit reduced violence so much that Petraeus said he was able to walk down the street there recently, eating an ice cream, without fear of attack.

With the help of the local population, the military has uncovered more weapons caches in Anbar in the first five months of this year, than in all of last year, Petraeus said.

"When we came in here, we didn't get it right with the tribes," Crocker said. "It was just too complicated to figure out at the time, and we ran into a lot of problems. Al-Qaida got it even more wrong."

Crocker said he hoped planned provincial elections _ which cannot be held until parliament agrees on a new election law _ will cement the tribes' participation in government and their loyalty to the new Iraqi regime.

Petraeus warned that the situation in Anbar may not be a realistic blueprint for restoring order in the rest of the country, because the province is heavily Sunni and has been spared much of the sectarian violence roiling other areas.

"The biggest lesson learned in Iraq is that every place is unique," he said.

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© 2007 The Associated Press