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ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. and Iraqi troops have wrested at least half of Baghdad from the grip of insurgents, Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno said Thursday.

“Greater than 50 percent of Baghdad is currently in control of coalition or Iraqi security forces,” Odierno, who is commander of the Multi-National Corps—Iraq, told Pentagon reporters a televised briefing from Baghdad.

“Under control” doesn’t mean that no violence occurs in a given area, Odierno said, but that “citizens feel protected and feel comfortable going about their business.”

The most contentious neighborhoods, Odierno said, are those that are mixed between Sunnis and Shiites.

Throughout Iraq, the Sunni insurgency is now “a little bit cleaner than it was before,” particularly the Sunni terrorists who call themselves Al Qaida in Iraq, or AQI, which U.S. commanders have called the primary threat in Iraq.

A combination of factors has led to the “significant weakening” of AQI, Odierno said.

First, U.S. forces have had “great success” in eliminating top AQI operatives, Odierno said — 26 have been killed or captured in the past two months, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, deputy director of public relations with the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, told the Washington Times on Tuesday.

“The leadership has been significantly fractured,” Odierno said.

As the home-grown AQI movement is increasingly gutted by coalition forces, Odierno said he disagreed with an assessment in the new National Intelligence Estimate that says al-Qaida in Iraq is a threat against the U.S. homeland.

That assessment is part of a declassified portion of the intelligence document that the administration released Tuesday.

“I think it would be very difficult for them to export any violence outside of Iraq,” Odierno said.

What Odierno does see evidence of, he said, is that the larger al-Qaida group is trying to use Iraq as a training area for its own insurgents.

“That’s what I see as the biggest threat of al-Qaida,” he said.


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