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Petraeus notes violence drop, foresees more 'tough work'

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  • NEW: Gen. David Petraeus: Violence down 60 percent in the last six months
  • 2007 still has been the deadliest year for U.S. troops since the start of the war
  • Death toll in central Baghdad car bombing rises to 19
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- America's top military commander in Iraq said Thursday violence is down significantly across the country -- 60 percent in the last six months -- but that he's not ready to celebrate.

Gen. David Petraeus told reporters at Baghdad's Camp Victory that the picture has improved in a number of areas, with progress to report against al Qaeda in Iraq, in thwarting militant attacks and through cooperation with local militias.

He said troops have put the militants on the run, aggressively "pursuing" them in what used to be their strongholds.

"There's nobody in uniform who's doing victory dances in the end zone," Petraeus said. "We see this as requiring a continued amount of tough work" in the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq.

Petraeus said current violence levels in Iraq compare favorably to those from the spring and summer of 2005. Even in noting the progress, the general said this has still been the deadliest year for U.S. troops since the start of the war.

In addition to a "surge" in U.S. forces and more aggressive operations against militias and al Qaeda forces, Petraeus credited a six-month cease-fire initiated by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army with helping curb violence.

Asked if he felt the overall war had turned a corner, Petraeus said that progress in Iraq isn't like turning on a light switch.

"Nobody says anything about turning corners, seeing lights at the ends of tunnels," Petraeus said. "When you've been doing this as long as some of us have, you just keep your head down and you keep moving."

His remarks come during Defense Secretary Robert Gates' visit to Iraq. Gates detailed the same strides mentioned by Petraeus and said that security, stability and democracy in Iraq are "within reach."

Other developments:

  • Iraq's Interior Ministry has updated the casualty toll in a bloody car bombing on Wednesday in central Baghdad, saying that 19 people were killed and 36 others were wounded. The bomb went off in the Karrada district around 5:45 p.m., around the same time Gates was holding a press conference in the Green Zone.
  • Three insurgents were killed and 19 people were detained on Thursday in coalition troop operations targeting al Qaeda in Iraq along the Tigris River Valley in Iraq, the U.S. military said. "These operations are further examples of the progress we've made against al-Qaeda in Iraq senior leaders," said Maj. Winfield Danielson, Multi-National Forces-Iraq spokesman.
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    CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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