Pe­traeus to sug­gest cuts; pre­dicts smaller pres­ence in Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Steven R. Hurst

BAGH­DAD — The top Amer­i­can com­man­der in Iraq said Aug. 15 that he is pre­par­ing rec­om­men­da­tions on troop cuts for an up­com­ing re­port to Congress, while Iraqis dug out hun­dreds of bod­ies from the worst ter­ror­ist mas­sacre since the war be­gan.

Gen. David Pe­traeus, who re­turns to Wash­ing­ton next month to de­liver the re­port, pre­dicted U.S. forces would have a smaller pres­ence by next sum­mer.

“We know that the surge has to come to an end. There’s no ques­tion about that. I think ev­ery­one un­der­stands that by about a year or so from now we’ve got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now,” Gen. Pe­traeus told re­porters in Bagh­dad.

As he spoke, res­cuers in north­ern Iraq used bare hands and shov­els to claw through clay houses shat­tered by an on­slaught of sui­cide bomb­ings a day ear­lier that killed at least 250 and pos­si­bly as many as 500 mem­bers of an an­cient re­li­gious sect. It was the dead­li­est at­tack of the Iraq war.

Gen. Pe­traeus said the “hor­rific and in­dis­crim­i­nate at­tacks” in the pre­vi­ously peace­ful town of Qa­hataniya near the Syr­ian border were the work of al Qaeda in Iraq fight­ers.

The at­tack, Gen. Pe­traeus added, bol­stered his ar­gu­ment against mov­ing too quickly to draw down the 30,000 ad­di­tional U.S. troops de­ployed in the first half of the year. U.S. troop strength in Iraq is cur­rently at an all­time high of more than 160,000.

“The ques­tion is how do you [re­duce U.S. troops] so that you can re­tain the gains we have fought so hard to achieve and so you can keep go­ing.

“Again we are not at all sat­is­fied where we are right now. We have made some progress but again there’s still a lot of hard work to be done against the dif­fer­ent ex­trem­ist el­e­ments that do threaten the new Iraq.”

The vic­tims of the co­or­di­nated at­tack by four sui­cide bombers were Yazidis, a small Kur­dish-speak­ing sect that has been tar­geted by Mus­lim ex­trem­ists who con­sider its mem­bers to be blas­phe­mers.

The blasts far away from dis­tricts cov­ered by the U.S. troop surge crum­bled build­ings, trap­ping en­tire fam­i­lies be­neath mud bricks and other wreck­age. En­tire neigh­bor­hoods were flat­tened.

Gen. Pe­traeus, who wrote the Army’s book on coun­terin­sur­gency, said he and his staff were “try­ing to do the bat­tle­field ge­om­e­try right now” as he pre­pared his troop-level rec­om­men­da­tions for Congress.

One of most sig­nif­i­cant shifts for U.S. forces re­cently has been re­cruit­ing al­lies among for­mer Sunni in­sur­gents ar­eas such as the west­ern An­bar prov­ince. “A pretty big deal,” said Gen. Pe­traeus.

“You have to pinch your­self a lit­tle to make sure that is real be­cause that is a very sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment in this kind of op­er­a­tion in coun­terin­sur­gency,” he said.

“It’s all about the lo­cal peo­ple. When all the sud­den the lo­cal peo­ple are on the side of the new Iraq in­stead of on the side of the in­sur­gents or even al Qaeda, that’s a very sig­nif­i­cant change.”

The gen­eral made his com­ments to a small group of re­porters who ac­com­pa­nied him to the head­quar­ters of a group of for­mer Sunni in­sur­gents who are now work­ing with Amer­i­can and Iraqi forces against al Qaeda in west­ern Bagh­dad’s Amariyah neigh­bor­hood.

Gen. Pe­traeus lis­tened in­tently as the so-called Free­dom Fight­ers’ 40year-old leader, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Abed, ex­plained his trans­for­ma­tion. He said he switched sides be­cause al Qaeda was rav­aging the neigh­bor­hood and try­ing to im­pose its aus­tere ver­sion of Is­lam.

Mem­bers of the neigh­bor­hood vol­un­teer army milled about, pis­tols strapped to their hips and AK-47 au- tomatic ri­fles at the ready.

Gen. Pe­traeus re­viewed a short line of the aux­il­iary force, shook hands with each man and handed them a to­ken.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Barham Saleh, who un­ex­pect­edly ac­com­pa­nied Gen. Pe­traeus, promised Mr. Abed the Sunni neigh­bor­hood in Bagh­dad — now that it was calmer — would re­ceive pri­or­ity gov­ern­ment at­ten­tion for its crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture.

Gen. Pe­traeus asked Mr. Abed if he would do an in­ter­view with an Iraqi television crew that had joined the tour and tell Sun­nis who fled the dis­trict to re­turn to their homes be­cause it was now safer. The diminu­tive Mr. Abed agreed and promised his pro­tec­tion to re­turnees.

The neigh­bor­hood com­man­der does not talk about his back­ground, and whether he was ac­tive in the Sunni in­sur­gency.

When asked if Mr. Abed had been an in­sur­gent be­fore his change of heart, a U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cer said, “I’m op­ti­mistic about his back­ground.”

The of­fi­cial would not be named for fear of spoil­ing re­la­tions with Mr. Abed.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Gen. Pe­traeus

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