Confiscated weapons pile up in Iraq
By Jim Michaels - USA Today
Posted : Tuesday Jul 31, 2007 6:05:54 EDT

Coalition forces have uncovered more insurgent weapons caches in the first six months of this year than the entire previous year, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Monday.

The record number of seizures is due largely to a new U.S. strategy that has moved U.S. forces off bases and into neighborhoods, generating more tips from civilians. Offensives have also disrupted insurgent sanctuaries, Petraeus said.

Uncovering weapons caches is one of several signs of recent military progress, Petraeus said. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will travel to Washington in September to give an assessment of the new strategy in Iraq, which is backed by an additional 30,000 U.S. troops.

“We feel as if we have momentum, tactical momentum,” Petraeus said in a telephone interview from Baghdad.

Petraeus cautioned that challenges remain and insurgent groups maintain the ability to carry out large attacks.

“I don’t want to paint a rosy picture,” he said.

Uncovering the caches, which can include everything from rockets and surface-to-air missiles to assault weapons and components for roadside bombs, gets weapons out of the hands of insurgents.

It’s also a sign of how prevalent weapons and ammunition are in Iraq. The numbers of arms caches uncovered so far this year is 3,698, up from 2,726 in all of last year, according to the military command in Iraq.

“It’s staggering,” Petraeus said.

Despite tactical success on the battlefield, Iraq’s national government has made almost no progress in passing legislation that would help win Sunni support for Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government.

The legislation is included in the 18 military and political benchmarks Congress will be using to measure progress in Iraq. On Monday, Iraq’s parliament adjourned for a month despite the lack of progress.

Petraeus will likely highlight progress on reconciliation at the local level when he comes to Washington. A growing movement of mainly Sunni groups is fed up with violence and a strict interpretation of Islam, and have turned on al-Qaida, he said.

The U.S. military is not arming the groups but is providing support in other ways, including paying salaries for some, Petraeus said. The goal is for the groups to eventually become part of Iraq’s security forces.

“I think there is a mind-set shift among Sunni Arabs,” Petraeus said.

More recently, locals have begun turning on Shiite extremists in parts of heavily Shiite southern Iraq, Petraeus said.

Petraeus could include recommendations on troop levels as part of his assessment.

If no action is taken, the additional forces would remain until next spring.

“We all know the surge is going to end,” Petraeus said.

The question is whether reductions will be made before then.

Petraeus said he is still studying troop levels, but any drawdown will need to be designed so as not to lose momentum, Petraeus said.

“It is about ... not surrendering the gains we have made,” he said.

The report in September will likely be an interim assessment and not a final report on whether the new strategy has failed or succeeded. The last of the additional forces arrived in Iraq in June.

“That’s not a whole lot of time to implement and assess,” said Col. Timothy Reese, director of the Army’s Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. “It won’t be obviously a failure, and it won’t be obviously a success.”