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Gen. Petraeus warns of a hasty US pullout from Iraq

In a Monitor interview, top US general sees pockets of progress.

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As the merits of staying in Iraq are debated in the US, the top American commander in Iraq says that a quick withdrawal of US troops will cause "greatly increased sectarian violence."

The release of a White House report Thursday, showing the Iraqi government had only made "satisfactory" progress on eight of 18 benchmarks, may accelerate a congressional push for a midterm accounting, with some critics saying July is the new September. Gen. David Petraeus is due to report to Congress on progress in Iraq in September.

But in an interview, General Petraeus insists, "September is September from my perspective."

"What the ambassador [to Iraq, Ryan Crocker] and I will do in September is to provide a forthright, comprehensive assessment of the situation at the time and provide discussion of the potential consequences of various courses of action that might be considered," he says.

In fact, while talking to officers here Wednesday at Patrol Base Murray, occupied by the US 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, the general stressed the importance of the increased numbers of troops in the effort to stabilize the areas in and around Baghdad. Establishing relationships with locals is vital in identifying Al Qaeda operatives and may only be sustainable, at least in the short term, with increased US presence, he said.

Prior to the establishment of the US camp three weeks ago, this area 19 miles south of Baghdad was an Al Qaeda sanctuary. "This area was a very important sanctuary for Al Qaeda for a number of years [since the 2003 US-led invasion]. They would plan and organize car bombs and bring foreign fighters and launch them into Baghdad," Petraeus says. "We tried to disrupt [their operations] ... but never took this away from them. That is what we're trying to do now – deny them this area."

The latest update from this outpost is "promising," he says, with local Iraqi leaders and civilians pointing out Al Qaeda operatives in the area. Such collaboration, say US commanders, is essential in stabilizing the restive provinces that surround Baghdad.

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