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Key US general says it is too soon to judge Iraq plan

Additional troops are still arriving

CAMP ANACONDA, Iraq -- The US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said yesterday it was too early to judge whether a Baghdad security crackdown was successful because the last of five extra brigades had yet to be deployed.

Earlier, US military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver said US and Iraqi troops controlled only about a third of the Iraqi capital.

US troops are dying at rates not seen for more than two years, almost four months after Washington began to send thousands of additional troops to Iraq in a last-ditch attempt to drag the country back from the brink of all-out sectarian civil war.

"You have not even seen the start of real operations," Petraeus told reporters during a medal ceremony at a US air base near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad.

A military spokesman said earlier an extra 18,000 US troops, and many more Iraqi soldiers and police, had already been deployed since the start of the crackdown in the Iraqi capital in mid-February.

"The surge has not truly reached the full number on the ground. We still have an additional brigade just coming into Iraq," said Petraeus.

He and the US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, are due to give a progress report to President Bush in September that Petraeus promised would be a "forthright snapshot," including their thoughts on various options.

"We would not be doing this if we did not think this was doable," said Petraeus.

The crackdown in Baghdad and other areas is designed to buy time for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to meet a set of political targets set by Washington, aimed at promoting national reconciliation.

The benchmarks, including a revenue-sharing oil law and constitutional reform, are meant to draw minority Sunni Arabs, dominant under Saddam Hussein, away from the insurgency and back into the political process alongside majority Shi'ites.

The New York Times reported yesterday that according to an internal military assessment and local commanders, US and Iraqi troops "maintain physical influence over" 146 of Baghdad's 457 neighborhoods, with resistance still met in the other 311.

With Sunni Al Qaeda militants and insurgents trying to derail the crackdown and wreck political progress, Bush and military leaders have warned that bloody months lie ahead.

"It's going to get harder before it gets easier," Garver said. "We know it's going to be a tough fight over the summer."

Casualty figures bear out that assessment, with June already showing similar rates to May. Seventeen US soldiers were killed in the first three days of June.

"It is happening because we are going into areas where the enemy has sanctuaries," said Petraeus.

"The enemy is not going to allow us to do that without a fight. They certainly are trying to ramp up their activities."