In the face of stiffening insurgent resistance, U.S. and Iraqi security forces now control about half of Baghdad, the American commander overseeing operations said yesterday.
Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commander of Multi-National Division Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon the progress in securing the capital has been steady and though he could use more U.S. troops, he believes he has enough — with the recent arrival of reinforcements to complete his mission.
"Some wonder: Are we progressing fast enough? Are we ahead? Are we on track?" he said during a video teleconference from his headquarters in Baghdad.
"This is a fight against extremists. It's a fight to put power back into the hands of the average Iraqi citizens and to give them a vote and a voice in their own future, without intimidation or fear. I see progress, a steady progress, in every neighborhood that we've cleared and then established a full-time presence."
A reinforced U.S. troop presence has been conducting stepped-up security operations since the start in mid-February of a new campaign designed to clamp down on sectarian violence in Baghdad so the Iraqi government is able to begin functioning normally.
The top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, is scheduled to present a progress report to Congress in September.
Gen. Fil said American and Iraqi security forces now control 48 percent to 49 percent of the 474 neighborhoods in Baghdad — up from 19 percent in April. Two weeks ago, his boss, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, said about 40 percent of the city was under control.
Gen. Fil defined "control" as "where we have our security forces there and we're denying that space to enemy forces."
U.S. and Iraqi forces are conducting clearing operations in 36 percent of the capital's neighborhoods — about the same percentage as in April. In neighborhoods that are neither under control nor in the process of being cleared, coalition forces are "disrupting" insurgent forces, Gen. Fil said.
He said the degree of resistance by insurgents in some parts of Baghdad has been remarkable.
"This is a skilled and determined enemy," he said. "He's ruthless. He's got a thirst for blood like I've never seen anywhere in my life."
At a separate press conference later, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates echoed some of Gen. Fil's remarks about the difficulty of fighting the insurgents.
"We're dealing with ... a smart, agile enemy who adjusts his tactics," Mr. Gates said, with Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at his side. He was referring in particular to the insurgents' ability to kill U.S. troops with enormous homemade bombs often buried in roadways or hidden nearby.
Gen. Fil said US forces have encountered a "very strong" cell of al Qaeda fighters in the East Rasheed and Dora areas. Those are among several sectors in the capital where insurgents have chosen to make a stand, he said, and likely will remain a focus of intensive military action.