A top U.S. general in Baghdad says the security situation in Iraq has improved dramatically in recent months, but that progress remains tenuous and any rapid pullout of U.S. troops would be "risky." VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Major General Joseph Fil, a commander of multi-national troops in Baghdad, says security trends in the Iraqi capital and elsewhere in the country are almost universally positive. The general spoke with reporters at the Pentagon in a video-conference from Baghdad.
"The number of attacks against citizens in Baghdad has dropped by almost 80 percent since November, 2006," said General Fil. "Murders in the province have decreased by 90 percent during that same timeframe. The number of vehicle-borne IED incidents has also declined by about 70 percent. The number of roadside bombs has also decreased significantly, and we are finding more and more of them before they detonate."
As a result, according to the general, Iraqis are leading more normal lives, with commerce beginning to flourish and reconstruction efforts moving forward. Perhaps most importantly, General Fil says Iraqi politicians at long last have the "breathing space" they require to tackle thorny national reconciliation matters and strengthen the country's fledgling democracy.
The general credited this year's surge of U.S. troops in Iraq, along with the efforts of Iraqi security forces and the general population, for the improvements. But if an important corner has been turned in Iraq's overall security situation, Fil stressed that it would be too early to declare victory over terrorist forces.
"Al Qaida is down but it is by no means out [defeated]," he said. "It remains a very dangerous enemy that retains the ability to attack the innocent. And we must continue to pursue them, to attack their networks even as they are trying to regenerate [their offensive capabilities]."
President Bush has said that, as Iraq's security situation improves, a gradual drawdown of U.S. forces will be possible. General Fil did not comment on when or how many troops could be brought home from Iraq, but cautioned against any sudden or drastic pullouts.
"Although the incidents of violence are down, it is clear that pulling out too quickly, before the Iraqis are truly able to take over these areas independently, would be very risky," said General Fil. "And there are some areas in the city where it would fail [Iraqi security forces would lose control]. They are simply not ready to stand entirely on their own."
Recent polls show many Americans believe security has improved in Iraq, but most continue to favor a withdrawal of U.S. forces.
In the opposition-controlled U.S. Congress, leading Democrats insist on establishing goals for troop reductions in Iraq as a condition for approving new funds for the war effort. President Bush has refused to consider what he regards as any "artificial timelines" for a withdrawal.