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Iraqi Leaders Welcome Petraeus Testimony

The Iraqi government on Tuesday welcomed U.S. congressional testimony from America's top general in Iraq, saying the need for U.S. military support here would decrease over time.

National Security Adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, reading from a government statement, said the Iraqis believed that "in the near future" the need for U.S. and other coalition forces "will decrease."

"The aim of the Iraqi government is to achieve self-reliance in security as soon as possible, but we still need the support of coalition forces to reach this point," cautioned al-Rubaie, who in the past has often given rosy pictures of Iraq's capabilities.

Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker began testimony before U.S. Congress on Monday, with Petraeus calling for a gradual reduction - but still significant number - of U.S. troops in Iraq. He said he has recommended that in December an Army brigade - numbering 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers - be withdrawn, and that between December and next July four additional Army brigades plus two Marine battalions leave Iraq without being replaced.

That would still leave a U.S. force of approximately 130,000 - about the same number that were in Iraq before U.S. President George W. Bush announced his troop buildup in January.

Al-Rubaie said Tuesday that Petraeus' report showed a "transparency in evaluating the situation" and that the U.S.-led coalition is "enabling us to be successful."

Monday's Capitol Hill testimony was frequently interrupted by anti-war protesters, and Petraeus heard strong rebuttals from some U.S. lawmakers who oppose America's continued involvement in the 4 1/2 year war that has claimed at least 3,772 U.S. lives.

(AP Photo/Sabah Arar)
Referring to the clamor, al-Rubaie (seen at left) said: "We understand... the impatience and disappointment of our coalition supporters who expected more (progress) sooner."

"We Iraqis are of course impatient, and wish the progress were more rapid," he said.

Meanwhile, ordinary Iraqis said Tuesday that Petraeus and Crocker's testimony in Washington meant little for their daily struggles in Baghdad.

"I was listening to the report last night, and I think it's a forgery lacking credibility. They (the Americans) care for their interests only," said a Baghdad resident who gave only his nickname, Abu Ali, out of fear of reprisals.

"It might be propaganda ahead of U.S. elections," he added. He said he favors a quicker American military withdrawal than Petraeus has recommended.

In other developments:

  • Nine soldiers' deaths were reported Monday by the U.S. military in Iraq, including seven killed in a vehicle accident in Baghdad. The seven Multinational Division-Baghdad soldiers were killed and 11 others wounded in a western section of the capital, the military said in a statement.
  • Turkey will host a conference in late October on Iraq's security and future attended by neighboring Muslim countries and outside supporters, the United States said Tuesday. The meeting to be held in Istanbul will be the third neighbors conference aimed at achieving commitments on ways to stabilize the country. In a similar conference in May held in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, neighbors promised to stop foreign militants from joining Iraq's insurgency, a pledge that the United States says has not been met.
  • Blast-caused head injuries sustained by U.S. soldiers in Iraq are so different from the ones doctors are used to seeing from falls and car crashes that treating them is as much faith as it is science. "We're seeing things we've never seen before," say doctors.

    Violence continued Tuesday, with U.S. troops killing nine suspects in a pre-dawn raid on the Baghdad Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, the military said. Iraqi police and witnesses said only three people were killed, all civilians.

    Iraqi officials said eight others were injured in the operation in Sadr City - home to 2.5 million of Baghdad's poorest residents as well the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

    A resident who described himself as a tribal leader, Hussein Mohammed Mishan, said one of those killed was a teenage boy who was shot dead by American troops when he opened his front door to see what was going on outside.

    At least two children were among the wounded, an Iraqi officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

    The U.S. raid was conducted to "detain criminals involved in murder, kidnapping, IED and mortar attacks and weapons smuggling," the military said in a statement. Nine "armed terrorists" were killed and eight others were captured, it said.

    The Iraqi officer put the number of suspects arrested at 10, and said eight civilian cars were damaged as well. Several sheep and cattle were also killed in a yard fire ignited by gunfire, he added.

    Associated Press Television News footage showed at least four flattened cars, with windshields shattered and doors crumpled. Witnesses said U.S. military vehicles had driven over then in narrow dirt passageways between city blocks.

    The video also showed at least two homes with door locks blown off and the interiors ransacked.

    The U.S. statement said American aircraft fired on a dump truck believed to have been used by terrorists. It was destroyed.

    A day earlier, U.S. and Iraqi troops killed three civilians during a similar raid in the same area, police and residents said. The U.S. military denied there were any civilian or military casualties from Monday's operation, which it described as targeting a suspected Shiite extremist who eluded capture.

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