Iraq Gains Are "Reversible": Petraeus

By Peter Graff

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. and Iraqi commanders said on Saturday there had been a remarkable improvement in the country's security over the past year, but the top American general also warned that the gains could be reversed.

"Success will emerge slowly and fitfully with reverses as well as advances. Inevitably there will be tough fighting, more tough days and more tough weeks, but fewer of them, inshallah (God willing)," General David Petraeus said in a year-end briefing to journalists.

In a message to his troops, he wrote: "A year ago, Iraq was racked by horrific violence and on the brink of civil war.

"Now, levels of violence and civilian and military casualties are significantly reduced and hope has been rekindled in Iraqi communities. To be sure, the progress is reversible and there is much more to be done."

Petraeus said the number of attacks in Iraq had fallen by 60 percent since June and the number of civilian deaths had fallen by 75 percent since a year ago. The number of U.S. military deaths was also sharply lower.

But figures supplied at Petraeus's briefing also showed a slight rise in suicide car and vest bombs since October. At least 33 people were killed by two suicide bombs on Christmas Day, and 10 people died in a Baghdad car bomb on Friday.

December is on track to be the least deadly month for U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

At his own end-year briefing, Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf issued another series of optimistic statistics:

Seventy-five percent of Al Qaeda networks and 70 percent of its activities have been eliminated, he said. Assassination attempts were down by 79 percent since June.

Fewer corpses were being dumped in the streets: "We found more than 15 to 20 bodies in February every day. But now the number of dead bodies is 3 or 5 (per day)," Khalaf said.

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