US Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Iraq Feb. 10 just before the first anniversary of the troop “surge.” Gates said in Baghdad that he supports a pause in troop draw-downs from Iraq after about 30,000 soldiers have been sent home by July. His comment that the security situation in Baghdad remained “fragile,” was emphasized by two car bombings that left 19 people dead. “I think that the notion of a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense,” he told reporters after a two-hour meeting with the US commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. The 157,000-strong US force is officially on track to come down from 19 brigades to 15 by July, a reduction of at least 20,000 troops plus another 7,000 to 10,000 members of support units. (AFP, Feb. 12)
The deadliest blast Feb. 10 was at a checkpoint at the entrance of a bridge in the district of Yathrib, on the outskirts of Balad, 80 kilometers north of Baghdad. A suicide truck bomber attacked Iraqi police and Awakening militia members at the checkpoint, killing 34 and wounding 37 others.
Elsewhere, two villages near the country’s border with Syria were stormed by presumed al-Qaeda fighters. The insurgents were repelled by local Awakening militia and Iraqi troops, but 22 people were killed in the clash—including four women and children caught in the crossfire, according to Sheik Fawaz al Jarba, the head of the Mosul Awakening group. Another attack occurred near Sinjar, about 100 kilometers west of Mosul, killing five members of a local awakening council. (AlJazeera, Feb. 11)