By PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press
BAGHDAD - Violence in Iraq is at its lowest levels since the first year of the American invasion, finally opening a window for reconciliation among rival sects, the second-ranking U.S. general said Sunday as Iraqi forces formally took control of security across half the country.
Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the man responsible for the ground campaign in Iraq, said that the first six months of 2007 were probably the most violent period since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The past six months, however, had seen some of the lowest levels of violence since the conflict began, Odierno said, attributing the change to an increase in both American troops and better-trained Iraqi forces.
"I feel we are back in '03 and early '04. Frankly I was here then, and the environment is about the same in terms of security in my opinion," he said. "What is different from then is that the Iraqi security forces are significantly more mature."
Meanwhile, al-Qaida's No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri said in a new video posted Monday that the United States is trying to hide its failures in Iraq and warned that the mujahedeen there are increasing in strength.