Petraeus Admits to Rise in Iraq Violence

By Alexandra Zavis

The Los Angeles Times

Saturday 29 September 2007

The top US commander, back from his trip to Washington, says Sunni Arab militants have carried out a "Ramadan surge." But he notes that the level of attacks remains lower than a year ago.

Baghdad - Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, acknowledged today that violence had increased since Sunni Arab militants declared an offensive during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"Certainly Al Qaeda has had its Ramadan surge," Petraeus said in his first comments to reporters since he returned from Washington to give lawmakers a status report on the war in Iraq. But he said the level of attacks was "substantially lower" than during the same period last year.

The Army general said he saw no need to revise the projections he presented to Congress this month for a gradual withdrawal of the additional forces deployed to Iraq as part of the troop buildup. He did not provide figures.

Militants with the extremist group Al Qaeda in Iraq have launched a string of deadly bombings in recent weeks, including one this week that killed at least 24 people at a reconciliation meeting between Sunni and Shiite tribal, religious, political and security leaders in the Diyala provincial capital, Baqubah.

At least 11 Iraqis were killed in bomb blasts, mortar and gunfire today. The U.S. military also announced the deaths of two soldiers in small-arms fire, one during combat operations in a southern section of Baghdad and the other in Diyala.

A U.S. military panel, meanwhile, sentenced an Army sniper to an effective 44 days confinement in connection with the deaths of two Iraqi men. Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval Jr., 22, was also demoted to a private and ordered to forfeit his salary for the days he spends behind bars.

Sandoval was acquitted of murder charges in the deaths during the three-day court-martial but convicted of the lesser offense of placing detonation wire on one of the bodies to make it appear that the man had been an insurgent. Members of his sniper team testified that they were following orders when they shot the men April 27 and May 11 near Iskandariyah, a dangerous area south of Baghdad.

Sandoval's 150-day sentence was commuted for time served and labor he performed during the 106 days he spent in detention, the military said. The prosecution had argued that he should serve five years.

Two other snipers from the same team, Sgt. Evan Vela and Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley, will be tried separately. All three soldiers are part of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based at Ft. Richardson, Alaska.

In today's worst attack, a car bomb targeted a police patrol near the northern city of Mosul, killing four of its members and injuring 16 people, police said. The incident happened in Hamdaniya, a predominantly Christian area northeast of Mosul. Most of the injured were bystanders, police said.

Earlier, drive-by gunmen assassinated a Sunni cleric in front of his home in Mosul's Mithaq neighborhood, said police Brig. Gen. Abdul-Kareem Jbouri. Sheik Ghanim Qassim Jbouri was a member of a city council that issues religious edicts.

In Baghdad, a bomb targeting a U.S. patrol in the eastern New Baghdad neighborhood killed three civilians and injured eight others, police said.

Gunmen fired at Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad's central Fadil neighborhood, triggering a fierce exchange that killed at least one civilian bystander and injured four others, police and hospital officials said. And a mortar round slammed into the southwestern Dora neighborhood, killing one person and injuring four others, including a child.




Times staff writer Ned Parker in Baghdad and special correspondents in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk contributed to this report.