The fight against insurgents in Iraq is likely to continue several more years, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said yesterday.
"I think just about everybody out there recognizes that a situation like this — with the many, many challenges that Iraq is contending with — is not one that's going to be resolved in a year or even two years," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said on "Fox News Sunday." "And in fact, typically, I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years."
The general said he would be able to "provide a reasonable snapshot of the situation" by September and sounded a hopeful note that the "surge" of additional U.S. troops in Iraq would produce results.
"I think that there is a good prospect for progress in the months ahead that, hopefully, can be matched by progress in the political and economic arenas here in Iraq and, again, can give us hope for the way ahead," he said. He added that it was too early to tell whether the increased level of U.S. troops would need to be maintained into next year.
"We will provide some recommendations on the way ahead" by September, he said.
Several U.S. leaders have made the analogy in recent weeks to the continuing American military presence in South Korea, now more than a half-century after the Korean fighting ended in a cease-fire. Gen. Petraeus said that such a commitment would be for politicians to decide but that a long-term security arrangement is "probably a fairly realistic assessment" of what would be needed militarily.
The general's optimistic assessment in the short term was bolstered by Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who said the situation there is "a mixed picture, but certainly not by any means a hopeless one" and cautioned against impatience.
Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Mr. Crocker said, "There are two clocks, and the Washington clock is running a lot faster than the Baghdad clock."
Iraqi officials "understand American concern and frustration," the ambassador said, but "hope that we understand just how complicated and difficult the situation they face is."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday indicated that he and other Republicans will expect a reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq after September, when Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker are due to provide a report on the situation.
"I don't think we'll have the same level of troops in all likelihood that we have now," said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, appearing on the CBS's "Face the Nation." "The Iraqis will have to step up, not only on the political side but on the military side, to a greater extent. We're not there forever. I think they understand that, and the time to properly evaluate that, it strikes me, is in September."
Asked about a recent Pentagon report showing no decrease in the level of violence in Iraq, Gen. Petraeus — the U.S. military's top counterinsurgency specialist — suggested that renewed enemy attacks were to be expected in response to the troop surge.
"The fact is that as we go on the offensive, the enemy is going to respond. That is what has happened," he said.
The arrival of additional troops is "enabling us now to launch operations into sanctuaries, areas in which we have had very little coalition force presence other than raids in recent years," Gen. Petraeus said. "These are areas where al Qaeda has established car-bomb factories and other bases from which they have issued forth and then moved into Baghdad to attack targets, often indiscriminately."
Gen. Petraeus said there has been a "stunning reversal" in Anbar province in western Iraq, which military intelligence had "assessed to be lost less than a year or so ago," but where the general said local tribes have joined the successful fight against al Qaeda.
In Baghdad, Gen. Petraeus said, "about 30 percent of the neighborhoods" are areas of "real concern."
U.S. troops "are now going in much greater force" into areas north and south of Baghdad "in which al Qaeda has had some sanctuary in the past," Gen. Petraeus said, adding that American forces will also be targeting Diyala province, "an area to which some of the al Qaeda fighters have moved as they have been pushed out of Anbar and out of some of the Baghdad neighborhoods."