'Surge' hit by fresh al-Qa'ida threats

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The Independent Online

President George Bush, reinforcing the message that the US troops "surge" is making progress, said yesterday that more American forces would start moving into a support role by the end of the year. In December, Mr Bush said in his weekly radio address, the US would begin a new military phase, in which "our troops will shift over time from leading operations to partnering with Iraqi forces, and eventually to over-watching those forces."

Following last week's report by General David Petraeus, the supreme US commander in Iraq, the Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, suggested troop levels could fall as low as 100,000 by the end of 2008.

But the surge suffered a blow last week when Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, a Sunni tribal chief who had led an uprising against al-Qa'ida in Anbar province, was killed by a bomb. Yesterday al-Qa'ida threatened to name and kill tribal leaders who worked with the US or Iraqi security forces.

Meanwhile, the government of Nouri al-Maliki was weakened by the departure of 30 MPs loyal to the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who pulled his bloc's six ministers out of the cabinet in April. The main Sunni grouping also quit the cabinet last month. Mr Maliki now has the support of only half the 275 MPs.