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The thousands of extra US troops pumped into Iraq this year are aiding security, the US Army’s former commander there said Tuesday, as yet more bloody bombings were reported in the war-torn nation.
“Our guys are seeing progress on the security front,” General George Casey told reporters here after a weekend visit to Iraq. “The surge is having the intended military effect.”
Within hours of his comments, at least 200 people were reported killed and more than 200 wounded when four suicide truck bombs targeted people from an ancient religious sect in northern Iraq.
Ten US soldiers were also reported killed Tuesday, five of them in insurgent attacks and five in a helicopter crash.
“For the time I was there, there was progress in Iraq every day … and there continues to be progress,” the general said.
“What remains to be seen is whether the Iraqis can take advantage of the opportunity and create the political accommodation that it’s going to take to succeed.”
The US-led invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 has left in its wake a vicious sectarian conflict between rival religious and ethnic communities which has seen Iraq ravaged by insurgent violence.
Bombings and shootings have left tens of thousands of civilians dead and the US military has lost 3,694 personnel, according to the latest AFP count based on Pentagon figures.
Some 1.5 million refugees have flooded into neighboring Syria.
Amid the carnage, Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is struggling to hold together a unity government as representatives of a key Sunni bloc have stormed out, protesting that he has failed to bridge sectarian differences.
In a bid to stem the bloodshed, the government of US President George W. Bush began sending 30,000 extra troops from January to secure parts of Iraq including the capital Baghdad.
“As complex and as difficult and as confusing as you may find Iraq … we can succeed there. And we will succeed there if we demonstrate patience and will,” Casey said Tuesday.
Democrats failed in their last bid to pressure Bush into setting a timetable for withdrawing US troops. But he faces a possible turning point next month when the US commander in Iraq David Petraeus and the US ambassador there, Ryan Crocker, report to Congress on the effectiveness of the surge.
Asked whether the army would be ready to withdraw if Congress succeeded in imposing a pull-out date, Casey insisted “we’ll be prepared to do what we need to do.”
“They have an educated population. They have oil wealth. They have water. They have some of the most fertile land that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “In a decade or so this will be a remarkable country — if we stick with it.”
Tuesday’s bombings targeted the minority Yazidi community in two villages of the northern province of Nineveh. Between them they amounted to one of the bloodiest single incidents of the war.