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Petraeus Disappointed At Political State of Iraq
There are many regions of Iraq -- particularly Baghdad and areas to the immediate north and south -- where U.S. troops are sitting on ethnic and sectarian "fault lines," one Baghdad-based officer said. Although they may be at relative peace for the moment, violence is likely to reignite if U.S. troops depart, the officer said.
Petraeus is expected to report that more time is needed for Iraqi forces to be able to control those areas and for local populations to trust one another. Those views conflict with the recommendations of a commission of retired senior officers who presented Congress this week with an independent assessment of Iraq's security forces. The commission cited a growing culture of Iraqi dependency on the U.S. troop presence.
One official said Petraeus will offer "a fair amount of data" in his presentation to Congress, including charts demonstrating how violence has diminished since additional U.S. troops began establishing a presence in Baghdad neighborhoods this year. Among the charts prepared for him is a series of color-coded maps of the capital that show a decreased "density of ethno-sectarian attacks" at three-month increments beginning last December. The first map shows much of the city covered with blots of bright red, indicating violent "hot spots." By August, all the red is gone, and most of the city map is a peaceful green with only a few scattered islands of watchful yellow.
Other charts indicate downward trends in violence on several fronts. An August total of about 1,500 civilian deaths nationwide is down from a June spike of 1,900. Nationwide deaths from "ethno-sectarian" causes are listed as down by about one-third since February, for an August total of about 900. The charts show a 50 percent drop in deaths resulting from sectarian violence in Baghdad from about 800 in February to 400 in August.
The numbers show significant drops in violence since an eruption of sectarian warfare in mid-2006 that peaked in December. But military officials acknowledged yesterday that current levels of violence in some categories are about where they were last summer.
"When explained in context, statistics are as useful as maps," one official said. "But just like maps, they don't show the potholes." The numbers, he said, "still need to go down quite a bit."
Petraeus has faced tough questions even within the military, notably from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and even his own boss, Adm. William J. Fallon, head of the U.S. Central Command, about his desire to proceed slowly with any drawdown.
"Fallon has double responsibility and has to sweat both Iraq and Afghanistan, and there simply ain't enough troops to go around," said one U.S. official familiar with the debate. "And Petraeus will try to hold on to as much as he can as long as he can."
Staff writers Robin Wright, Ann Scott Tyson, Thomas E. Ricks and John Solomon contributed to this report.