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Petraeus Q & A

TWS Exclusive: An interview with Gen. Petraeus from the Swiss weekly Weltwoche and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

11:00 PM, Dec 21, 2007 • By MATTHIAS RUEB and URS GEHRIGER
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Editor's Note: This interview took place on December 17, 2007, and was a joint venture of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche and Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Baghdad, Iraq

Q: General Petraeus, since February you have been the Commanding General of the Multi-National Force in Iraq. You have implemented a new strategy and earned a great deal of credit for your accomplishments. What is your overall assessment of the mission so far?

P: Well, it's really more the last five or six months, I think, during which we have seen progress in about every different respect and in almost every area of Iraq with the exception of the Mosul-Ninawa area which has remained about the same in terms of violence because of the enormous importance of that area to al Qaeda. And we know that as al Qaeda has been thrown out of the Euphrates River Valley, killed, captured, or pushed out of Anbar Province, the southern belts, although there are still some areas. In fact, we have some work to do in the Salman Pak-Medina area, and that's one reason that attacks went up a bit last week is we think that we hit a pocket of them down there and they really are fighting back. In the Baghdad neighborhoods, by and large, there's been enormous progress, in Ghazaliyah, Amariyah, Doura, Adhamiyah, Arab Jabour, Nafiyas. We had had progress by September. In fact, that's what the ambassador and I reported when we went back to Capitol Hill.

Q: What progress has been made since you have come back from Capitol Hill?

P: Till September it was still the early stages. What we have seen now for a sustained period of five or six months, since about mid-June, has been a steady reduction in violence. There was a little up-tick during Ramadan. There have been a couple of up-ticks in the past, say, ten weeks, but we've generally had a period of about ten weeks of levels of violence that have not been seen on a sustained basis like that since the late spring of 2005. So we are actually almost on a two-and-one-half year low in terms of violence.

Q: After many mistakes in the past years the US Mission in Iraq under your command seems to have found the right strategy. What is the reason for this success?

P: There are a lot of factors behind that. Certainly, the damage we have done to al Qaeda. It remains very dangerous and we see it periodically, they'll crank back up again. But we are trying to pursue them very, very tenaciously and we know where they are, we know what we have to do. You have to keep adjusting and shifting your forces to pursue that but it's a much better position to be pursuing tactically than it is to have to conduct an assault as we had to at Ramadi or into Baqubah very much or Doura even. Some of these areas where there were really prepared defenses, that's very challenging, very dangerous, very costly. So what we want to do is very much try to keep al Qaeda on the run, recognizing that it remains lethal, dangerous, and capable of regenerating and they're constantly trying to do that.

Q: Jihadis from neighboring countries have been responsible for some of the most bloody suicide attacks in Iraq. Have you been successful in reducing the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq?

P: There has been a reduction of foreign fighter flow through Syria. That's a result of actions by source countries against possible extremists who might want to come to Iraq. It is a result of action by Syria which we think sees al Qaeda as a threat to its regime; correctly so. And it's very much a result of damage to the foreign fighter network inside Iraq including Abu Usama Al-Tunisi, the head of the foreign-fighter network and Mathana[ph] who was a facilitator up in Ninewa Province where we also captured the 800-plus records of foreign fighters who had come into the country from August, 2006 to August, 2007. Again, they're still coming in; they're just coming in at a level that, it's an imperfect estimate but, perhaps, half of what it was several months ago.

Q: Then there was the ceasefire declared by the Shia firebrand Mullah Muqtada al-Sadr in August. How did that contribute to the stabilization of Iraq?