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U.S. forces welcome least deadly month of Iraq push

By Peter Graff 22 minutes ago

The buildup of extra troops in Baghdad may be bearing fruit, U.S. commanders said on Tuesday, as they welcomed word that July was the least deadly month for their forces in Iraq since November.

Despite the promising news, President George W. Bush's nominee to be top military adviser told Congress the United States would be in Iraq for "years not months," and a Pentagon official said the war was costing more than expected.

Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, picked as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned U.S. lawmakers unhappy with the conflict against seeking a rapid pullout from Iraq, saying it could turn the country into a "caldron."

Official figures showed 74 American service members were killed in Iraq in July, the lowest figure since November, when 70 died.

Deaths of U.S. troops in Iraq had spiked in recent months as they fanned out into dangerous Baghdad areas under the new strategy, seen as a last attempt to reduce sectarian fighting by the United States, where public sentiment has turned deeply against the war.

May was the deadliest month in two-and-a-half years with 126 killed, and more than 100 died in both April and June.

"Any time you are talking about coalition forces being safe, we gladly welcome that and hope to see it continue as a trend, that due to our operations the level of violence and level of attacks against coalition forces goes down," said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver.

"We said at the beginning of the summer, it's going to get harder before it gets easier. Now we hope to see that payoff."

But Mullen was quick to dash notions of a fast pullout. He told Congress that under one scenario it could take three to four years just to halve the 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq, although he did not expect the U.S. presence to be permanent. Many Democrats want to pull out combat troops by April.

"I do think we will be there for years, not months," Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Based on the warm reception they gave him, lawmakers appeared likely to confirm 60-year-old Mullen, who the White House nominated last month after deciding against seeking a second term for Marine Gen. Peter Pace.


In separate testimony to the House Budget Committee, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said next year's war tab will exceed the administration's existing request for $141.7 billion.

That is on top of more than $600 billion in war checks already written for Iraq and Afghanistan, with 70 percent going to Iraq. And England said Bush's request did not include next year's costs for the extra 30,000 U.S. troops sent into combat this year.

Washington launched its new strategy this year in Iraq, sending its soldiers out of large garrisons and into small forward bases to get to know local Iraqis and patrol more closely with Iraqi forces.

Mullen said that ultimately "no amount of troops" could solve Iraqi political problems, but that strategic decisions should wait until U.S. Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus report on the current strategy's progress in September.

In a preliminary assessment two weeks ago, Washington reported some military successes, but also noted that Iraqi political leaders had failed to enact laws aimed at reconciling warring communities.

Iraq's parliament left on Monday for a summer break until September 4, leaving little time before Petraeus and Crocker must present their progress report to Congress.

Ordinary Iraqis expressed frustration with the stalled political process, days after an ethnically and religiously mixed Iraqi soccer team defied the odds to win the Asia Cup, prompting nationwide celebrations unseen since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"The people in government should just leave their offices and let the soccer team rule," said 36-year-old Abu Mufeed.

(Additional reporting by Mussab Al-Khairalla in Baghdad)

U.S. forces welcome least deadly month of Iraq push -  Source

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