US Ambassador: Success Still Possible in Iraq

The U.S. ambassador to Baghdad says success "within a realistic timetable" is still possible in Iraq despite surging sectarian violence. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad spoke during a rare joint news conference in Baghdad with U.S. military commander General George Casey.

The comments come as the United States is under growing pressure to change course in Iraq and tackle the growing violence here.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters in Baghdad Tuesday the United States has been adjusting its strategy in Iraq and would redouble its efforts to succeed.

"Iraqi leaders must step up to achieve key political and security milestones on which they have agreed. As they take these steps, which can produce success and bring about Iraqi self reliance, we must continue to support them," he said.

He said the United States will help Iraqi officials disarm Sunni insurgents and ease sectarian tensions.

Few details or specific benchmarks emerged during the news conference.

U.S. military commander General George Casey said Iraqi security forces could be ready to take over the entire country within 12 to 18 months.

"I still strongly believe that we need to continue to reduce our forces as the Iraqis continue to improve because we need to get out of their way," he said. "The Iraqis are getting better, their leaders are feeling more responsible for the security in Iraq and they want to take the reins."

General Casey described the situation in Iraq as both difficult and complex.

He said around 90 percent of the sectarian violence remains confined to small 30-mile radius around the capital Baghdad.

He also stressed, U.S. forces are constantly adjusting their tactics to stay ahead of evolving conditions on the ground.

He said success will ultimately depend on a joint military and political solution in Iraq.

Both men accused Iran and Syria of helping fuel the violence in Iraq.

This has been one of the deadliest months in Iraq in over a year. Both sectarian and insurgent violence has surged in recent weeks. At least 87 U.S. troops have been killed in October.

On Tuesday, U.S. forces in Baghdad conducted sweeping raids throughout the day after an American soldier went missing. There are mounting concerns the Iraqi-American translator may have been kidnapped.