NEWS: Iraq safer, Petraeus says, but “there will be bombs”

Iraq safer but still perilous at year-end, Petraeus says

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, delivered a positive but cautious assessment Saturday of progress in the country in 2007, citing the drop-off in violence over the latter half of the year but warning that the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq remains the country’s preeminent threat.

Petraeus said the number of weekly attacks in Iraq — such as roadside bombings, mortar attacks and sniper fire — has fallen by about 60 percent since June, to about 500 a week by late this month. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in December through the 22nd appeared to be about 600, according to a graph of the past two years provided by Petraeus that uses combined Iraqi and U.S. figures. The highest death toll during this period came last December, when about 3,000 civilians were killed.

“The positive security trends and the factors that produced them are changing the context in many parts of Iraq. While progress in many areas remains fragile, security has improved,” Petraeus said during a briefing for reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. He added that success “will emerge slowly and fitfully, with reverses as well as advances, accumulating fewer bad days and gradually more good days. There will inevitably be more tough fighting.”

The downturn in violence is generally attributed to three factors that emerged over the year: the arrival of 30,000 additional U.S. troops, the emergence of tens of thousands of Sunni fighters who aligned with American troops against al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the decision by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to call for a six-month cease-fire by his militia. Petraeus also cited a drop-off in fighters coming to Iraq from Syria and Saudi Arabia, and a decline in recent months in the use of weapons believed to have been made in Iran. [complete article]

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