- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) – Senior leaders of al-Qaeda may be diverting fighters from the war in Iraq to the Afghan frontier area, the top American commander in Iraq told the Associated Press on Saturday.

Gen. David Petraeus also said al-Qaeda may be reconsidering Iraq as its highest priority war front.

“There is some intelligence that has picked this up,” he said in the interview in his office at the U.S. Embassy along the Tigris River. “It’s not solid gold intelligence,” he added, stressing that the reliability of the information has not been confirmed.

Nonetheless, he cited the signs as part of a broadly positive review of conditions in Iraq, where al-Qaeda fighters have been driven almost entirely from Baghdad and pummeled in other urban areas.

Related story: Jon Ward/Bush mulls troop pullout timeline

Petraeus said the information was based on human intelligence, meaning informants.

“There are unsubstantiated rumors and reflections that perhaps some foreign fighters originally intended for Iraq may have gone to the FATA,” he said, referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, where militants have a secure staging ground for movements into neighboring Afghanistan.

Petraeus said that until now, al-Qaeda communications have made clear that Iraq is its highest priority for battle. “That could be under review.”

Even if it proves true that al-Qaeda is putting less effort into Iraq, he said that does not mean the terrorist network that originally was based in Afghanistan before U.S. forces invaded the country in October 2001 will give up entirely on fighting in Iraq.

“Al-Qaeda very much remains a factor” in Iraq, he said.

Petraeus is due to leave his post in Baghdad in September to head U.S. Central Command, with responsibility for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan as well as Iraq.

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