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Gates, U.S. General Back Long Iraq Stay

The visiting Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, and President Bush meet with reporters in the Oval Office.
The visiting Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, and President Bush meet with reporters in the Oval Office. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

"There are insurgents reaching out to us . . . so we want to reach back to them," Odierno said. "We're talking about cease-fires and maybe signing some things that say they won't conduct operations against the government of Iraq or against coalition forces."

The overtures to insurgent groups, tribes and religious leaders are part of a push by the U.S. military to generate political accommodation at local and eventually national levels, Odierno said.

Odierno also cited progress resulting from the buildup of 28,500 U.S. troops in Iraq, but he appealed for patience and said he may need time beyond September to determine whether the "surge" ordered by Bush in January is working. "The assessment might be . . . 'I need a little more time,' " he said.

The troop increase will be completed in mid-June, with 8,000 more U.S. combat personnel moving into position in Baghdad and its outskirts and in Anbar province over the next two weeks. Odierno said it will take until at least August for those forces to be "immersed into the local populace" and be able to improve security.

Odierno said the extra troops have produced "some very clear progress." He cited military data showing that since January, operations in Iraq have detained nearly 18,000 people, discovered about 2,500 weapons caches, killed more than 3,184 enemy fighters and wounded 1,016. In Baghdad, where about 50,000 U.S. combat troops and 79,000 Iraqi security forces are operating, civilian deaths -- including those from sectarian violence -- are lower than in January, although they increased in May over the previous two months, he said. Operations have added security barriers to 11 Baghdad markets and helped generate 32,000 jobs, and have spent more than $35 million on reconstruction and humanitarian projects, he said.

Still, Odierno said that he expects hard fighting ahead. In coming weeks, he said, the focus of U.S. military operations will be on insurgent sanctuaries in the outskirts of Baghdad, especially to the south and east in Diyala province.

Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report.

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