Pace: Waves of Change Hit Parts of Iraq

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 17, 2007; 6:28 PM

RAMADI, Iraq -- Upbeat on what could be his final visit to Iraq before retiring, the top U.S. general said Tuesday that parts of Iraq are undergoing a "sea change" in improved security.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took some people in war-battered Ramadi by surprise during a sandstorm that kept his helicopter grounded and gave him extra hours to tour.

He was driven down streets that U.S. soldiers had called "The Gauntlet" and "The Racetrack" before the combination of a U.S. offensive and new Sunni Arab tribal alliances against al-Qaida in Iraq brought a remarkable, if uncertain, peace to this provincial capital.

Pace told two reporters accompanying him that his unplanned interlude, which included a chat with Mayor Latif Eyada, reinforced his sense of optimism about the U.S. troop buildup, which is focused mainly on Baghdad but includes Ramadi and other areas of Anbar province.

Accompanied by teams of soldiers and security guards, Pace strolled past street-side fruit and vegetable stands, stopping now and then to shake hands with smiling children and to chat with shopkeepers on an afternoon in which he was about the only shopper in sight.

"To them, the hard work of getting rid of al-Qaida is done," Pace said. "Now they want to get on with their lives."

Earlier in the day Pace met with U.S. commanders in Baghdad, as well as Marine Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin, who is responsible for all of Anbar province, and Army Col. John Charlton, whose 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division has ushered in the changes in Ramadi and environs.

"What I'm hearing right now is a sea change that's taken place in many places here, that it's no longer a matter of pushing al-Qaida out of Ramadi, for example but rather, now that they have been pushed out, helping the local police and local army have a chance to get their feet on the ground," he said.

Security has improved in parts of Iraq in the past few months _ since the increase in U.S. troops in Baghdad and as some Sunni tribes and armed insurgents have turned against al-Qaida.

But there are fears that these Sunni groups may not remain loyal to the Shiite-led Iraqi government, which has a deep distrust of them. Also, there are concerns that Iraqi police and the army won't be able to maintain security and consolidate areas retaken from insurgents.

There is still much violence in Iraq. Just Tuesday, a car bomb exploded across the street from the Iranian Embassy in the heart of Baghdad and killed four civilians.

Pace said on Monday that he and the Joint Chiefs of Staff would give President Bush their recommendation in September on whether to continue the troop buildup or to change course.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Associated Press