We’ll Have to Talk to Militants, Says US Chief in Iraq


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

    We'll Have to Talk to Militants, Says US Chief in Iraq
    By Lauren Frayer
    The Associated Press
    Thursday 08 March 2007

The new commander of US forces of Iraq, General David Petraeus, said today that 
insurgents in Iraq have sought to intensify attacks during a Baghdad security 
crackdown and additional US forces will be sent to areas outside the capital 
where militant groups are regrouping.

Petraeus said the troop build-ups outside Baghdad will focus on Diyala province 
north-east of Baghdad, a growing hotbed for suspected Sunni extremists fleeing 
the US-Iraqi security operation in Baghdad.

But Petraeus stressed that military force alone is "not sufficient" to end the 
violence in Iraq and political talks must eventually include some militant 
groups now opposing the US-backed government.

"This is critical," said Petraeus in his first news conference since taking over
command last month. He noted that such political negotiations "will determine in
the long run the success of this effort. "

Petraeus listed a series of high-profile attacks since US and Iraqi forces began
the security sweep three weeks ago, including a suicide blast at a mostly Shiite
university and an assassination attempt against one of Iraq's vice presidents.

The Pentagon has pledged 17,500 combat troops to the capital. Petraeus has said 
the full contingent should not be in place until early June. He declined to say 
how many US forces will be deployed to Diyala, where the group al-Qaida in Iraq 
has made one its main staging grounds.

Military officials believe many insurgents have shifted from Baghdad to Diyala 
to escape the security operation.

"Car bombs have targeted hundreds of Iraqis," Petraeus said. He also denounced 
the wave of other attacks, including the "thugs with no soul" who have killed 
more than 150 Shiite pilgrims in the past three days.

"We share the horror" of witnessing the suicide bombings and shootings against 
the pilgrims, who are heading for a religious commemoration beginning Friday in 
the Shiite holy city of Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad.

The attacks - mostly blamed on Sunni insurgents - are seen as attempts to 
provoke a civil war with Shiite militia. But Petraeus said it was " critical" 
for leaders to halt any drift toward sectarian conflict.

He said US forces are ready to help provide additional security for the pilgrims
if asked by Iraqi authorities.

"It is an enormous task to protect all of them and there is a point at which if 
someone is willing to blow up himself ... the problem becomes very, very 
difficult indeed," he said

But Petraeus added that he saw no role for the powerful Shiite militia known as 
the Mahdi Army, which had sent out fighters to guard the pilgrimage in the past 
two years.

He said "extremist elements" in the militia have been engaged in " true 
excesses" in the past - an apparent reference to suspected gangs carrying out 
targeted killings against Sunnis.

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