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Top commander talks about frustrations of U.S. efforts in Iraq

Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the chief of staff to the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, took questions by phone from Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Chris Vaughn on Wednesday, just hours after a string of bomb attacks killed more than 170 people in Baghdad. This is an edited transcript of that interview.

QUESTION: How many troops are in Baghdad right now?

ANSWER: There are seven brigade combat teams and a portion of another one. (A brigade combat team is typically about 3,500 soldiers.) We have another brigade coming into Iraq next month, which probably means a good chunk of them will end up in Baghdad, too. We will have upwards of nine brigade combat teams in the city by mid-May. The Iraqi security forces—a combination of Iraqi army, national police and local police—number right around 20,000. When you tally that up, it's a fairly significant number.

Q: Is it enough?

A: Yes, I think. But we're going to have to see.

Q: What is the impact on your efforts of days like today with the terrible toll from the bombings?

A: It is debilitating. It is very frustrating. People work very hard and they shed blood, sweat and tears, and every time something blows up, it is a setback. All we can do is try to turn it around. We have to tell the Iraqis, "Here are the people who did this and those of you who support them are ultimately hurting yourselves." But (the bombings) clearly don't help the cause.

Q: What is going well in Iraq?

A: There is a more fair and impartial approach to establishing security. The capability of the Iraqi security forces, specifically in Baghdad, is getting better. There are numerous successes with courts and the rule of law, microfinance, private industry, the quality of services, thequality of medical care. But I'm not going to "BS" you. There are still some challenges, and there are some clear cultural agendas. What makes people tick here is a lot different than what makes people tick at home. There is a lot of hatred.

Q: What is something you wish were going a lot better?

A: What this country could really use is investment to come in and improve oil pipelines, the irrigation system, power systems and increase basic services to people, so the quality of life improves. I know the security situation is a concern, but helping the economy move along would certainly help the security situation.


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.