Iraqis can contain surge in terrorism, says Petraeus

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The Independent Online

David Petraeus, the US general who masterminded the "surge" in Iraq, yesterday ruled out a review of the US decision to withdraw troops from Iraqi cities despite an upsurge of violence which claimed the lives of nearly 100 people in a single day this week.

A string of suicide attacks in Baghdad on Wednesday – the worst day of bloodshed since February 2008 – and another bombing in the city yesterday, have caused dismay among Iraqis, and shaken confidence in the ability of the country's own security forces to keep the peace and contain the threat from extremists.

The attacks have also reopened questions about Barack Obama's troop withdrawal timetable. But the head of US Central Command said Iraq was no longer facing "an insurgency". Instead he termed the current spasm of violence "a terrorist threat" – and one that the Iraqi army and police were equipped to contend with.

General Petraeus conceded that while al-Qa'ida and its Sunni extremist affiliates in Iraq had been considerably weakened, they retained a "capability", bolstered by a small but steady supply of foreign fighters and money channelled through Syria. Iraqi authorities have said Wednesday's attacks were "archetypal" of the style favoured by al-Qa'ida and said they had detained two alleged members of the organisation in the west of the capital.

"There is no question that there are elements that are trying to reignite the cycle of sectarian violence of 2006 which necessitated the surge," said General Petraeus. Shia extremists were also still active, he added, and they were being trained and supported by Iran.

While there had been a splintering of Shia militant organisations, their continuing presence remained worrying, the US general said. However, he insisted that the Iraqi security forces were "more than capable" of performing their security tasks.

According to the withdrawal timetable, US troops were pulled back to bases at the end of June and combat forces are to be fully out of Iraq by this time next year.

Concerns have been growing about northern Iraq where territorial and oil tensions between Kurds and Arabs have raised fears of a new civil war. And Anbar, the province once held up by the Bush administration as a model of reconciliation, has also seen a recent spate of attacks.

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