By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
July 10, 2007 – More time is needed to gauge the effectiveness of the ongoing military offensive against insurgents in and around Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, the top U.S. general there said. "I can think of few commanders in history who wouldn't have wanted more troops, more time or more unity among their partners. However, if I could only have one (item) at this point in Iraq, it would be more time," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said during a question-and-answer session published in the New York Post today.
Petraeus is overseeing several ongoing operations that are part of an overall offensive against insurgents in Iraq called Operation Phantom Thunder, which began June 15, once all of the surge troops were in place. President Bush directed a deployment of about 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq earlier this year as a surge of forces to assist the Iraqi government in confronting the insurgency.
By July 15, the general and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker are to present an interim report to the president and Congress outlining the surge's progress so far. Another surge report is slated for September.
"This is an exceedingly tough endeavor that faces countless challenges," Petraeus said of current operations directed against al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists as well as Sunni and Shiite insurgents.
Petraeus said he's encouraged that tribal leaders in Anbar province and other areas of Iraq are rejecting al Qaeda terrorists as well as Sunni- and Shiite-backed insurgents.
"We're beginning to see a revolt of the middle against both extremes," Petraeus observed, noting the Anbar tribes' turning against the terrorists is a very heartening development.
"Al Qaeda in Iraq's key weaknesses are an ideology that does not resonate with Iraqis and an indiscriminate brutality that alienates people. Popular sentiment has begun to shift against them," the general said.
However, "the political dimension is the most significant current challenge" in Iraq, Petraeus said. Iraqi lawmakers' bickering is similar to what the United States government went through early in its history, he said.
Unfortunately, Iraqi lawmakers' progress to date "has been less than what all of us -- the Iraqis as well as coalition leaders -- had hoped to see," the general said.
Petraeus praised the performance of Iraq's security forces during current surge operations, noting there are some very good Iraqi units that operate largely independently. Other Iraqi units, he added, require "considerable" coalition help.
Yet, Iraqi soldiers and police have "been willing to fight, especially when their leaders set the example," Petraeus said. Iraqi security forces' losses in June, he noted, were triple the number of coalition casualties that month.
American military forces in Iraq "know they're engaged in a critical endeavor, one that's larger than self," Petraeus said. The mission in Iraq is important not only for Iraqis but it is also critical to America and the world, he said.
"Despite multiple tours and separations from loved ones, not to mention the impatience, frustration and other emotions we all feel at times, our men and women in uniform want to see Iraqis succeed. And, of course, they have a fierce desire not to let down their buddies," Petraeus said. "The bonds of those who have served together in combat are particularly strong."
On the Fourth of July almost 600 U.S. servicemembers in Iraq re-enlisted for further service, Petraeus recalled. In another ceremony that day, he said, 161 soldiers and Marines serving in Iraq took the oath to become U.S. citizens.
Petraeus urged the American people to be patient as surge operations in Iraq continue.
"None of us, Iraqi or American, are anything but impatient and frustrated at where we are," Petraeus said. "But there are no shortcuts. Success in an endeavor like this is the result of steady, unremitting pressure over the long haul.
"It's a test of wills, demanding patience determination and stamina from all involved," the general said.