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Progress in Iraq's Anbar 'breathtaking': US general

Thu Apr 26, 9:31 AM ET

The US commander of multinational forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said Wednesday that efforts to quell unrest in the western Sunni province of Anbar have made almost "breathtaking" progress.

Speaking to reporters about the new US strategy to curb sectarian violence in Iraq launched two months ago, based on a US troop increase, Petraeus said: "We are ahead, I think, with respect ... to the reduction of sectarian murders in Baghdad.

"Progress in Anbar is almost something that's breathtaking," he added.

The general illustrated his positive evaluation by citing the killing Friday of an Al-Qaeda kingpin, identified by the US command as the "security emir" for the east of Anbar province.

He also pointed to the capture of the head of an important weapons network and advances in intelligence about Iranian involvement in the conflict.

Petraeus, speaking after meeting with representatives and senators in Congress, acknowledged that challenges remain in Iraq, particularly car bomb networks and suicide attacks.

His comments came several hours before the US House of Representatives voted to approve a war funding bill that includes a timetable for pulling US troops out of Iraq, ignoring a threat by President George W. Bush to veto it.

The narrow 218-208 vote by the Democratic-majority House links release of 124 billion dollars in military spending for Iraq and Afghanistan to a schedule for the pullout of American troops, beginning as early as October.

Lawmakers paid little heed to Petraeus, who during a closed-door session earlier in the day championed the troop "surge" strategy and appealed for time so it could show results.

"Tonight, the House of Representatives voted for failure in Iraq -- and the president will veto its bill," said a statement by White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

The bill next faces a vote in the Senate, expected on Thursday, where it will likely be approved. Then it heads to Bush, who has repeatedly vowed to block it.

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