By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
May 24, 2007 – Military forces in Iraq need to prepare for a possible increase in violence in July and August, defense leaders told Pentagon reporters today. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the United States is dealing with a "smart, agile, thinking enemy" in Iraq that's technologically sophisticated and understands what's happening in the United States. That includes debate about Iraq.
As a result, Gates said, it's likely that these forces will increase their violence during the summer months, before Multinational Force Iraq Commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus issues an assessment in September.
"I think we should be prepared for them to make a very strong effort to increase the level of violence in July and August," the secretary said. "My hope is that anticipating it will allow us to thwart it."
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed that experience shows the enemy is likely to seize on the opportunity to influence its outcome. "From an enemy standpoint, attacking as best they can in July and August would make sense from their standpoint," he said.
As a result, he said, it's important for U.S. and coalition troops to be prepared. "We need to be prepared for that additional effort on their part, to defeat it and to turn it back," he said.
Petraeus' report is expected to focus on the overall situation in Iraq from a security standpoint, he said. That will include efforts to counter al Qaeda, to train and equip the Iraqi forces, to bring down the violence in Baghdad and to promote political reconciliation.
This evaluation will be "an important contribution to an overall evaluation of how we think things are going in Iraq," Gates said.
But any decision on whether the United States should change its course in Iraq in any way "is going to be the president's decision," he said. Gates told reporters he expects that Bush will consider input from him, the secretary of state and the Joint Chiefs of Staff when making such a decision.
Gates acknowledged that al Qaeda has had a big effect on the current picture in Iraq. "This situation would look very different if it weren't for al Qaeda," he said.
"Whatever progress is made, and particularly in the last few months, often is overshadowed when al Qaeda will launch a major attack that kills a lot of innocent civilian Iraqis," he said.
These terrorists "clearly intend to keep the violence stoked in trying to provoke sectarian conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiia," he said. "And so they are a significant complicating factor in what we're trying to accomplish through the surge."
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