US general, diplomat: Give Bush's Iraq strategy time
No drawdown in sight as violence rips Baghdad
BAGHDAD -- The top US general and diplomat in Iraq warned yesterday against cutting short the American troop buildup and suggested they would urge Congress in September to give President Bush's strategy more time.
General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, in separate interviews at the US Embassy, were careful not to say how long they would like to continue the counterinsurgency strategy and the higher US troop levels that began six months ago.
Still, Petraeus's comments signaled he would like to see a substantial US combat force remain well into 2008 and perhaps beyond. He said a drawdown from today's level of 160,000 US troops is coming but he would not say when.
Petraeus said he and his top deputy, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, are working on how to carry out a reduction in the extra troops Bush sent to Baghdad and to Anbar province. He said the goal is to do it "without undermining what we've fought to achieve."
As many in Congress are pressing for a troop reduction soon, Bush has resisted, saying he is waiting to receive the advice of Petraeus and Crocker in September.
Pressed on when he thought troop levels could be reduced, Crocker said: "It's going to take longer than September."
He said he saw his mission as ensuring "we're all looking at reality. I don't think any service is done either in Iraq or the US by saying, again, 'It's going to be OK by November.' This is hard. There is tremendous damage that's been done physically, politically, socially and it's going to take time to repair."
In new violence yesterday, a simultaneous truck bombing and rocket attack ruined a Shi'ite market district in one of Baghdad's safest central neighborhoods, killing at least 28 people and wounding 95.
Although suicide bombings are common in Iraq, it is rare for militants to stage a double attack with such effectiveness. The attackers struck about 6:40 p.m. as the Karradah district's market area was packed with shoppers on the eve of the Islamic day of rest.
An explosives-laden garbage truck exploded near the market at about the same time as a Katyusha rocket slammed into a three-story residential building about 100 yards away. Police said the explosions destroyed 17 stores and 14 cars.
An Iraqi military spokesman, Brigadier General Qassim al-Moussawi, blamed Sunni extremists for the rocket attack. He did not mention the car bombing reported by police.
Overall, at least 78 people were killed or found dead across Iraq yesterday.
The US military announced yesterday that three US Marines and a sailor were killed Tuesday in combat in Diyala province -- the site of a major military operation against a Sunni insurgent stronghold. It also said two US soldiers were killed in Baghdad -- one in a roadside bombing on Tuesday and another in a gunbattle on Wednesday. Separately, a Marine died Sunday in a noncombat related incident in Anbar province.
At least 64 US troops have died this month, a relatively low number compared with American death tolls of more than 100 for each of the previous three months, according to an AP count.
Odierno said it appeared that casualties had increased when US forces first expanded operations into militant strongholds, but decreased as the Americans gained control of the areas.
Odierno also said the US military has noted a "significant improvement" in the aim of attackers firing rockets and mortars into the heavily fortified Green Zone in the past three months, apparently the result of Iranian training.
During his interview, Petraeus ticked off things the US military must do to help put Iraq on a steadier course, including fostering the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces.
"We want to make much more progress against Al Qaeda. We would like to build on the early momentum from local groups rejecting Al Qaeda and militias," Petraeus said.
Crocker aid the consequence of leaving too early could be inroads by Al Qaeda, a consolidation of Iranian influence in Iraq, intervention by Turkey and other neighboring states, and a "massive human catastrophe."