WASHINGTON – Al-Qaeda has staged the majority of violent attacks in Iraq since the end of June, when US troops withdrew from the country's cities, a top US officer said on Thursday.
"In the period that we're looking at right now, post-30 June, I consider most of the attacks, the high-profile attacks that you are seeing and that are getting the publicity, are Al-Qaeda attacks," General Charles Jacoby, the number two ranking US officer in Iraq, told reporters via video link.
The general spoke after at least 22 people were killed and 45 wounded on Thursday when a suicide truck bomber struck a Kurdish village in northern Iraq.
"They're going after targets like civilian population centers where civilians are meeting, where they're conducting their daily lives," Jacoby said.
Al-Qaeda was trying to incite sectarian violence and discredit Iraqi government forces, he said, after Baghdad authorities took the lead for security in urban centers in July.
The general said the Al-Qaeda network in Iraq was "greatly diminished" compared to a few years ago.
"But they are still able to generate these high-profile attacks that we're concerned about," he said.
"I think that Al-Qaeda in Iraq will continue to test the Iraqi security forces," he said, adding Iraqi forces were "up to the test."
The frequency of large-scale attacks has steadily declined and he said it was unclear if Al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups could "sustain this kind of an operational tempo."
The number of violent deaths in Iraq hit a 13-month high in August, raising fresh concerns about stability after the Baghdad government admitted security is worsening.
Asked about a possible accelerated withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, an option mentioned by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in July, Jacoby said it was "too early, really, to say right now whether the operational environment is going to support accelerated troop withdrawals."
He added: "We'll be ready to do that if we're asked to and if we think that the security environment has improved."
About 130,000 US troops are deployed in Iraq, and current drawdown plans would have the number drop to 120,000 by January.
Gates has spoken of possibly pulling out an additional brigade of up to 10,000 beyond current plans.
Under a security agreement between Washington and Baghdad, all US forces have to leave the country by the end of 2011.
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