- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

1:15 p.m.

BAGHDAD — U.S. officials said today Iraq’s government has agreed to develop a timeline for progress by the end of the year, and Iraqi forces should be able to take full control of security in the country in the next 12 to 18 months with “some level” of American support.

Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, also said he felt the United States should continue to focus on drawing down the number of American forces in the country, adding that he would not hesitate to ask for more troops if he felt they were necessary.

The comments came after a spike in violence during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Gen. Casey said the Iraqi army lost 300 men during the fasting month ending this week.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said that the Iraqi government had agreed to develop a timeline for progress by the end of the year. He declared that the United States needed to redouble its efforts to succeed in Iraq.

Mr. Khalilzad and Gen. Casey appeared at a rare joint news conference in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. A power failure in the Green Zone briefly cut off the broadcast of the remarks.

Both men castigated Iran and Syria, Iraq’s neighbors east and west, for trying to undermine the American effort to stabilize the country.

Mr. Khalilzad said that radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls the violent Mahdi Army militia, had agreed to U.S. demands that the government develop a timeline for reducing violence and stabilize the political situation.

The month of October has proven especially deadly for U.S. forces as well.

The American military announced that two more U.S. Marines were killed during combat in the insurgent stronghold of Anbar province. The deaths raised to 89 the number of U.S. forces killed in October, the highest toll for any month this year and on course to surpass the October 2005 total of 96. Before that the deadliest months were January 2005, at 107; November 2004, at 137 and April 2004, at 135.

A U.S. military spokesman also said earlier today there had been no word on the fate of an American soldier reported missing yesterday in Baghdad. Troops carrying photos of the missing soldier continued door-to-door searches while Army Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters circled overhead in the central Karradah district.

The missing soldier’s name and other personal details have not been officially released. American troops who raided Baghdad’s al-Furat TV yesterday said they were looking for an abducted American officer of Iraqi descent who had gone to join family members in Karradah.

“We have not heard anything,” Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, an American spokesman in Baghdad, said. “We are sure U.S. forces are doing everything they can in the search.”

A U.S. military official in Washington yesterday said the missing soldier was a U.S. Army translator of Iraqi descent who may have been abducted. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not cleared for release.

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