U.S. forces launch offensives around Baghdad
Commander says troops targeting 'really key areas in belts from which... Al-Qaida has sallied forth.'
BAGHDAD - U.S. forces have launched "offensive operations" around Baghdad in the past 24 hours, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said Saturday, a day after the U.S. military said it had completed its troop buildup.
"Now for the first time we are going to a couple of the really key areas in the belts from which... Al-Qaida has sallied forth with car bombs, additional fighters and so forth," General David Petraeus told reporters in Baghdad.
U.S. President George W. Bush has sent an extra 28,000 troops to Iraq, mainly to Baghdad. The operation has reduced the number of sectarian killings in the capital, but violence has spiked in other provinces where militants have set up new bases.
The Pentagon said in its quarterly report on Iraq published this week that overall levels of violence in the country were unchanged despite the crackdown in Baghdad, blaming a surge in suicide and car bombings by Sunni Islamist Al-Qaida.
"In the last 24 hours we have launched a number of different offensive operations in the Baghdad belts," Petraeus said.
The Bush administration is under growing pressure from Congress to show progress in the operation that was launched in mid-February in an attempt to avert full-scale civil war between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunnis.
Petraeus was speaking as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Iraq to see for himself whether the new U.S. military strategy is working. U.S. officials have said it is too soon to make a judgment on its success or failure.