- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

BAGHDAD — Military force alone is not sufficient to end the violence in Iraq and political talks eventually must include some militant groups now opposing the U.S.-backed government, the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said yesterday.

“This is critical,” Gen. David Petraeus said in his first press conference since taking over command last month. He noted that such political negotiations “will determine, in the long run, the success of this effort.”

American troops have stepped up efforts to clear and secure major highways around the capital as part of the Baghdad security crackdown, which began last month. The Pentagon has pledged 17,500 combat troops for the capital.

Yesterday, U.S. and Iraqi troops captured eight suspected insurgents in raids north of Baghdad as part of a campaign to prevent insurgents from regrouping outside the city during the ongoing security crackdown.

The operation took place in Duluiyah and the Jabouri Peninsula — a bend in the Tigris River about 55 miles north of Baghdad — part of the Sunni areas around Baghdad where insurgents have fled since the crackdown began.

Gen. Petraeus said the security operation would be extended beyond the city limits to target these areas, which he referred to as “the Baghdad belt.”

He said that “any student of history recognizes there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency in Iraq.”

“Military action is necessary to help improve security … but it is not sufficient,” Gen. Petraeus said. “A political resolution of various differences … is crucial.”

U.S. officials, including Gen. Petraeus’ predecessor, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., long have expressed the opinion that no military solution to the Iraq crisis was possible without a political agreement among all the ethnic and religious factions, including some Sunni insurgents.

However, previous overtures to the insurgents have faltered, apparently because of political opposition within Baghdad or Washington to some of the conditions.

In Baghdad yesterday, a mortar attack shattered some windows at the Iraqi Airways office on the airport compound, but the shells landed hundreds of yards from the passenger terminal and caused no serious flight disruptions.

Such attacks, however, send chills through Iraqi officials preparing to host an international conference tomorrow on ways to help rebuild and stabilize the country.

The session will be a rare instance of Iranian and the U.S. officials at the same table. David Satterfield, the top State Department adviser on Iraq, said the United States will not walk away from direct one-on-one talks with Iran or Syria, but the Bush administration apparently does not plan to seek out such contact.

As the Baghdad conference approaches, Iraq’s neighbors have plunged into bitter squabbling, reflecting the sectarian struggle raging within Iraq itself.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which opposed the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, have remained suspicious of the Shi’ites, accusing them of sidelining Iraq’s Sunni minority and being proxies for extending Iran’s power in the Middle East.

On Wednesday, a key Shi’ite party, Fadhila, withdrew from the United Iraqi Alliance that backs Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, citing “faulty sectarian policies.”

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