BAGHDAD - US-led soldiers control only about a third of Baghdad, the military
said on Monday, almost four months into a security crackdown during which troops
are dying at rates not seen for more than two years.
More than 18,000 extra US troops
have been deployed around Baghdad as part of the campaign, which began in
mid-February and is seen as a last-ditch attempt to drag Iraq back from the
brink of all-out sectarian civil war.
Iraqi soldiers and traffic police officers stop a car at a
check point in Baghdad, Iraq, on Sunday, June 3, 2007. [AP]
The last of five brigades to be deployed in the crackdown will be in place
soon, military spokesman Lieutenant-Christopher Garver said, adding it would not
be possible to judge the success of the crackdown until all units were in place.
"Obviously we're constantly doing an assessment of the plan, but that plan
doesn't kick in until everyone's here," he said.
But with violence spiking across Iraq as Sunni Islamist al Qaeda and
insurgents try to derail the crackdown, US President George W. Bush and military
leaders have warned that a bloody summer lies ahead.
"It's going to get harder before it gets easier," Garver said of the
"We know it's going to be a tough fight over the summer."
The New York Times reported earlier on Monday that, according to an internal
military assessment and local commanders, US and Iraqi troops controlled 146 of
Baghdad's 457 neighborhoods.
The New York Times said that, according to the one-page military assessment
of the crackdown, troops had either not begun operations or still faced
resistance in the capital's remaining 311 neighborhoods.
"That's kind of like a snapshot, those numbers are going to change the more
you're working through those neighborhoods," Garver told Reuters, adding he had
not seen the military assessment.
Bush won a bruising battle with a Congress for war funding but is under
growing pressure, including from within his own Republican Party, to show
progress in the unpopular war or start bringing troops home.
The crackdown in Baghdad and other areas is meant to buy time for Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government to meet a set of political targets set by
Washington aimed at promoting national reconciliation.
The benchmarks, which include a crucial revenue-sharing oil law and
constitutional reform, are meant to draw minority Sunni Arabs, dominant under
Saddam Hussein, away from the insurgency and back into the political process
alongside majority Shi'ites.
June is showing similar casualty rates to May, with 17 US soldiers killed in
the first three days, 14 of them reported on Sunday.
May was the third-worst month for US soldiers since the invasion to topple
Saddam in March 2003. The worst months were November 2004, when 137 were killed,
and April the same year when another 135 died.
Garver said more casualties were anticipated during the crackdown because
thousands more troops were moving out of bases into command outposts, known as
joint security stations, leaving them more exposed to attack.
"There is a short-term risk and that is what we've anticipated would happen
in bringing about long-term benefit," Garver said.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in the same
period. While there was a significant reduction in the number of targeted
sectarian killings early on in the security crackdown, those numbers have risen
again, with dozens of bodies being found in Baghdad almost every day.