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Iraq Transition

U.S. general wants more troops for bloody Iraq province

Story Highlights

NEW: Two Baghdad bombings kill 22, injure dozens
• "I don't have enough forces to get security situation moving," general says
• Diyala province is insurgency hot spot bordering Iran
• U.S. must not cede "moral high ground" to enemies, general tells troops
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military commander in charge of northern Iraqi operations on Friday said more troops are needed to stem rising insurgent violence in Diyala province.

"I do not have enough soldiers right now in Diyala province to get that security situation moving," said Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commander of the 25th Infantry Division.

Mixon's comments came as a political battle was being waged in Washington over whether funding for U.S. forces fighting in Iraq should be tied to a deadline for their withdrawal.

In Washington on Thursday, the U.S. House passed a bill that would tie war funding beyond July to a progress report. The bill faced an uncertain future in the Senate, however, and President Bush vowed to veto it. (Full story)

Vice President Dick Cheney visited Iraq earlier this week with a tough message for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that time is running out for a solution to the country's mounting security crisis.

A senior administration figure said Cheney told Iraqi officials that the situation had reached a critical point.

"We've got to get this work done. It's game time. ... Everybody's got to sit down, raise their game, redouble their efforts," the source said.

Mixon did not specify whether more U.S. or Iraqi forces were needed. He made his comments during a news briefing from Iraq via teleconference at the Pentagon.

"We have plans to put additional forces in that area. ... We have put additional forces in there over that last couple months, an additional Stryker battalion, but I'm going to need additional forces in Diyala province to get that situation to a more acceptable level." (Watch Mixon lay out his need for additional troops Video)

He said he has been in touch with Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, about more troops in Diyala, even before the troop escalation that the administration calls a "surge" began in February. He said Odierno has been "providing them over time as they have become available."

About 3,500 U.S. soldiers, 10,000 Iraqi soldiers and several thousand police officers are stationed there. More than 3,000 additional police are needed, he said.

The level of violence has increased in Diyala, Mixon said, because the forces are increasing their offensive operations against the insurgents, many of whom have left Baghdad during the recent security crackdown, and because al Qaeda in Iraq has made Diyala a focus.

"It's where many of their high-level individuals have been killed or captured," he said. "They declared it their caliphate a year or two ago. So they have been in there for a while."

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late al Qaeda in Iraq leader, was killed in a U.S. airstrike last year while he was hiding in the Diyala town of Hibhib.

The province borders Iran and is an effective hiding place for insurgents.

"And quite frankly, there are a lot of former regime elements in there, and the Sunni population in certain areas were providing them support," Mixon said. "So we stepped up our offensive operations, and it was at that point when I realized that I was going to need additional forces."

On April 23, two suicide car bombers struck a U.S. outpost in Diyala, killing nine American soldiers and wounding 20 others from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

Referring to the entire region he covers, which includes Nineveh, Salaheddin and Tameem provinces, Mixon said, "We are making progress," but added, "it is slow."

The "bureaucracy in Baghdad" needs to do a better job of helping and supporting soldiers, saying "ministries move too slow to provide help," even though the situation has improved.

He said the government needs to show the Iraqi people it can provide the proper security and services.

Mixon was asked about the U.S. troop escalation called "the surge," and said those issues were being debated in Washington, and that his mind wasn't on possible deadlines for withdrawal that are being debated in Congress.

However, he said, "we just can't think about pulling out of here just like that."

"We need a long-term commitment in some form or fashion to ensure security in the region," he said, adding that it "doesn't need to be in the number we have now."

Troops urged to fight fair

America's top military commander in Iraq has sent a letter to troops challenging them to "occupy the moral high ground" after a Pentagon survey showed some service members were reluctant to report the "illegal actions" of fellow personnel.

In the letter, dated Thursday, Gen. David Petraeus wrote he was "concerned" with the poll's findings.

"This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we -- not our enemies -- occupy the moral high ground," he said.

The survey of ethics, released last week, assessed the mental health and ethical attitudes of more than 1,300 soldiers and nearly 450 Marines last year. (Read the report)

Results showed that fewer than half of soldiers and Marines would report a team member for unethical behavior.

Survey results also showed that about 10 percent admitted mistreating noncombatants or damaging their property when it was not necessary.

Only about 47 percent of Army soldiers and 38 percent of Marines agreed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect.

In the letter, Petraeus also underscored that torture to obtain information from the enemy was "wrong."

More than a third of soldiers and Marines reported that torture should be allowed to save the life of a comrade. "Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful or necessary," Petraeus said.

Other developments

  • Twenty-two people were killed and 60 were wounded Friday in two southeastern Baghdad bombings, an official with the Iraqi Interior Ministry told CNN. Two suicide bombs -- one in a car and another in a fuel tanker -- exploded in quick succession in the predominantly Shiite Zafaraniya district, each targeting an Iraqi police patrol. A bridge over the Tigris River was substantially damaged.
  • Seventeen unidentified bodies were found on Friday in Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said. This brings the number of such corpses found in the capital city this month to 236.
  • The U.S. military on Friday reported the deaths of two U.S. soldiers in Iraq on Thursday. One soldier was killed in a roadside bombing targeting a patrol in eastern Baghdad. Another soldier died from wounds sustained in an explosion in Diyala province, a military statement said. Thirty-four U.S. military personnel have been killed in May, bringing the total for the Iraq war to 3,385, including seven Defense Department civilians.
  • Coalition forces killed "four terrorists" and detained "nine suspected terrorists" in raids Thursday and Friday targeting car bomb networks in Iraq, the U.S. military said in a statement. One of those killed was a suspected car-bomb cell leader "allegedly tied to al Qaeda in Iraq senior leadership."
  • CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

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