The 2-month old joint U.S.-Iraqi bid to crush violence in the Iraqi capital "has not met our overall expectations," as attacks in Baghdad rose by 22 percent in the first three weeks of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the U.S. military spokesman said on Thursday.
Despite that 22 percent, General William Caldwell insisted violence and progress exist side by side, rattling off statistics such as more that 700 weapons caches discovered since July.
But the fact that the insurgency can take loses like that and still step up its attacks against American troops in what it believed to be an attempt to influence the November elections in the United States is also a measure of its strength and resilience, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.
"The enemy knows that killing innocent people and Americans will garner headlines and create a sense of frustration," Caldwell said.
The spike in violence during the month of fasting was "disheartening" and the Americans were now working with Iraqi authorities to "refocus" security measures, Caldwell said.
"In Baghdad, Operation Together Forward has made a difference in the focus areas but has not met our overall expectations in sustaining a reduction in the level of violence," Caldwell said at a weekly news briefing.
Meanwhile, the White House is emphatically rejecting two proposals aimed at ending the war in Iraq. Press Secretary Tony Snow says the idea of dividing Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions is a "non-starter." He also says a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops — perhaps by five percent every two months — is not under consideration. "You withdraw when you win," Snow said.
Snow was commenting on ideas reportedly being looked at by a blue-ribbon panel chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker. The commission is to report its findings after the elections. But Baker has said there are alternatives other than "stay the course and cut and run."
In other developments:
The gloomy assessment of the Baghdad operation, which was set in motion with the deployment of an extra 12,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops on Aug. 7, was issued at a time of perceived tension between the U.S. military and administration and the nearly five-month-old government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Caldwell said, for example, that U.S. forces had been forced to release a captured top organizer for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday, a day after he was detained on suspicion of "illegal" activities.
He said Mazin al-Sa'edi, a top organizer with the Sadr Movement political party in western Baghdad, was set free on the demand of al-Maliki. Al-Sa'edi had been detained along with five of his aides for suspected involvement in Shiite militant violence.
He said that the control over the city was left in the hands of the Iraqi military, however, and that the Iraqi government had not asked for U.S. assistance. U.S. forces were continuing to patrol the city, which has a major U.S. air base on the outskirts.
"The violence is indeed disheartening," Caldwell said.
The military says the sharp increase in U.S. casualties is tied to Ramadan and a security crackdown that has left American forces more vulnerable to attack in Baghdad and its suburbs. Muslim tenets hold that fighting a foreign occupation force during Islam's holy month puts a believer especially close to God.
One official told Martin that if the violence doesn't go down after Ramadan ends this weekend or at the latest after the November elections, "We're in big trouble."
October is now on track to be the deadliest month for American forces in Iraq since November 2004, when military offenses primarily in the then-insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, left 137 troops dead, 126 of them in combat.
The increasing death toll is having an effect on American public opinion, too, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante. As the battles bring American forces back to patrol areas they had already turned over Iraqis, even many of the president's Republican allies are concerned.
President Bush said Wednesday in an interview that the intensifying violence in Iraq now might be compared with the Tet offensive in Vietnam beginning in 1968.
The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese armies undertook a series of attacks that shook America's confidence about winning the war and eroded political support for President Johnson.
"There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we're heading into an election," Mr. Bush said.
But he added, "My gut tells me that they have all along been trying to inflict enough damage that we'd leave. And the leaders of al Qaeda have made that very clear."
Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison told the Dallas Morning News, "we've tried to step back and let the security forces take over, but that's not entirely successful."
Republican presidential frontrunner Sen. John McCain says more troops are need in Iraq.
"We need a functioning government, we need to put down what has now become a classic insurgency and we need to have a stable situation in Iraq," McCain said.
The president says often that the United States won't abandon Iraq before it is pacified, but pressure for some kind of solution is clearly growing, reports Plante.