- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 12, 2008

CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAIT The top U.S. general in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq today said that there is no indication that Iran has stopped its support of Iraqi insurgents, but that Syria has reduced the flow of foreign fighters across their border. Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker spoke to reporters after briefing President Bush at this massive army base an hour south of Kuwait City. Mr. Bush also spoke to reporters and made brief comments to about 3,000 U.S. soldiers on the 9,000-soldier base, which is a critical re-supply stop for U.S. forces in Iraq. Mr. Bush said he has no doubt the U.S. will succeed in Iraq, one year after he announced a surge of 30,000 troops to Iraq, which resulted in significant reductions in violence. He also thanked the soldiers for their service, before departing for Bahrain, the third stop on his Middle East trip. Mr. Bush returns to Washington on Wednesday night. Speaking to reporters in a large operations center where members of the Third Army monitored enormous electronic maps of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa, Mr. Bush called on Iran to stop its support for anti-U.S. forces in Iraq. Iran must stop supporting the militia special groups that attack Iraqi coalition forces, and kidnap and kill Iraqi officials, Mr. Bush said. Mr. Crocker said that while there has been some decline in attacks on U.S. forces associated with Iranian munitions or training, they have also seen an increase over the last 10 days in attacks using what are called explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs. From the empirical data I cannot draw any conclusion that the Iranians have made a fundamental shift in their approach to Iraq, away from supporting extremist militia groups that are attacking our forcers and also attacking Iraqis, and toward their stated position, which is support for the Iraqi government, Mr. Crocker said. I certainly havent seen any evidence that that is what they are doing, he said. Gen. Petraeus said Iran was sending conflicting signals, and that he would take a wait and see approach toward the issue of weapons and training support for insurgents. We need to let it develop, Gen. Petraeus said. But he did say that Syria has in fact taken steps to reduce the flow of foreign fighters to its soil, which has been a source of manpower for the insurgency, especially for suicide bombers. It may be down by a half or so, Gen. Petraeus said of the cross-border flow. Mr. Bush said that Syria needs to further reduce the flow of terrorists to the territory, especially suicide bombers. As for U.S. force levels in Iraq, Gen. Petraeus said he and his staff are beginning to plan for continued withdrawals past July, when troops in Iraq are scheduled to return from 160,000 to the pre-surge level of about 130,000. But, the general said, the U.S. military is also planning for scenarios where violence stays the same or worsens in the coming months. Mr. Bush said that if Gen. Petraeus doesnt want to continue the drawdown thats fine with me. Mr. Crocker also said he expects the Iraqi parliament to pass a key law on reconciliation between Shiite and Sunni Arabs fairly soon. The law would allow Baath party members, who are currently barred from working in most government positions, to return to work. Democrats in Congress have criticized the presidents Iraq policy, arguing that despite the security gains, there have been no major reconciliation laws passed. Mr. Bush said that the purpose of his surge was to create breathing space for Iraqi politicians to forge a political consensus between tribal factions. But the Bush administration now says that reconciliation has accelerated at the local level, and that this is putting pressure on the national government to follow suit. Nonetheless, the passage of significant legislation by the Iraqi legislature would be an important marker for Mr. Crocker and Gen. Petraeus to point to when they return to Washington in March to brief Congress on progress in Iraq.

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