Despite the addition of thousands of extra troops nearly four months into a security crackdown U.S.-led forces have control of fewer than one-third of Baghdad's neighborhoods, a newspaper reported Monday. But military officials excuse that nobody said that the fight would not be easy.
The assessment came as the U.S. casualty toll soared, with the military announcing the deaths of 14 more U.S. soldiers over a three-day period ending Sunday.
Iraqi police also said at least six people were killed and 14 were wounded in three separate bombings Monday in Baghdad.
The New York Times said an American assessment of the security plan through late May found that American and Iraqi forces were able to "protect the population" and "maintain physical influence over" only 146 of the 457 Baghdad neighborhoods.
Troops have either not begun operations aimed at rooting out insurgents or still face "resistance" in the remaining 311 neighborhoods, according to the report, which cited a one-page assessment along with summaries from brigade and battalion commanders in Baghdad.
U.S. and Iraqi military officials played down the report.
"We have stated all along that this was going to be harder before it gets easier," military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said. "It's going to be a tough fight over the summer and the plan is just in its beginning stages."
It appeared to be the first comprehensive analysis of the progress of the operation that began Feb. 14. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is due to report in September on whether the current troop increase is working amid a fierce debate in Washington over whether U.S. President George W. Bush should begin withdrawing American forces.
Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a military spokesman for Baghdad, also stressed that some of the extra American units ordered to Baghdad as part of a so-called surge of forces had yet to reach initial operational capability.
"No one expects all 457 to be under control at this time," he said in an e-mail.
The Bush administration, which has ordered some 30,000 extra American troops to Baghdad and surrounding areas as part of the security crackdown, has warned that the buildup will result in more U.S. casualties as more American soldiers come into contact with enemy forces and concentrate on the streets of Baghdad and remote outposts.
The U.S. military announced Sunday that 14 American soldiers had been killed over a three-day period in a deadly start for June and raising to at least 3,493 members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. May was the third bloodiest month since the war began, with 127 troop deaths reported.
The newly reported deaths included four who died in a single roadside bombing Sunday northwest of Baghdad and another who was struck by a suicide bomber while on a foot patrol southwest of the capital on Friday.
Two other soldiers were killed and five were wounded along with an Iraqi interpreter in two separate roadside bombings on Sunday, the military said, while seven others soldiers were killed in a series of attacks across Iraq on Saturday.
A car bomb also exploded outside a U.S. base near the volatile city of Baqouba, leaving a number of troops gasping for air and suffering from eye irritations, the military said. It did not confirm a report in the Los Angeles Times that the car was carrying chlorine canisters and said the soldiers who were sickened had been treated and returned to duty.
Following initial optimism over the operation to quell spiraling sectarian violence, unrelenting bombings staged by suspected Sunni insurgents have killed hundreds of Iraqis. U.S. commanders have cited a drop in the numbers of execution-style killings usually blamed on Shiite militias but those numbers also have seen a recent spike.
The deadliest bombing on Monday struck a minibus carrying unemployed Iraqis looking for work in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniyah in southeastern Baghdad, killing three people and wounding eight.
A bomb exploded under a parked car in a busy central area in Baghdad, killing at least one person and wounding three, and another bomb hit stores elsewhere in central Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding three.
At least 15 other people were killed or found dead in attacks elsewhere, including a pregnant woman who died in a mortar barrage targeting a U.S. base in Fallujah.
U.S. officers also have expressed disappointment with the performance of Iraqi troops, saying they need to brought to full capacity for the Baghdad security plan to work.
Top military leaders in charge of the Baghdad security drive, now nearing the end of its fourth month, have repeatedly complained that both the Iraqi army and police units that were sent to Baghdad for the operation are often at only 60 percent full strength, if that.
"Everybody's got to be performing at the same level," Garver said. "So we want to see our Iraqi counterparts performing at full capacity as soon as possible so there's all the development of Iraqi security forces going on as well."
He acknowledged some challenges with the Iraqi troops, including concerns that some were biased in their loyalties to one side or another, apparently referring to the sectarian bent of predominantly Shiite forces.
Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said Baghdad has 184 neighborhoods and "we are controlling more than 50 percent of them." The U.S. and Iraqi military frequently differ over details and designations of neighborhoods.
"Our forces are deployed in all of Baghdad and are doing well with their operations in calming the restive areas. We are moving ahead and achieving the goals of the security plan," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commander of the 1st Cavalry Division which runs the security operation in Baghdad, expressed particular disappointment with Iraqi police performance during a recent visit to his troops in the capital's Karradah neighborhood.
"The (Iraqi) Army is coming along pretty well, but the police really still need some work," the soft-spoken and understated Fil said at the Cobra Joint Security Station along a bend in the Tigris River. "You'll have to be very careful with them."
The police are deeply infiltrated by Shiite militiamen who use their membership in the force more for sectarian purposes against Sunni Muslims than in conducting police operations on behalf of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
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