ABC's Martha Raddatz is back in Baghdad for a week of reports, including this discussion with Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. The following is a transcript of the interview, including Casey's thoughts on the potential for an Iraqi civil war and the outlook for a possible reduction of U.S. troops in the region.
Martha Raddatz: What's your assessment of Baghdad?
Gen. George Casey: The situation in Baghdad is very difficult right now. [Gen.] John [Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East] said that. I said that. And we are working very closely with the new Iraqi government to improve the plan we had in place to bring security in Baghdad. And I think what you're seeing is the Maliki government, 75 days into its tenure with 60 days with the new minister of the interior and defense.
They're moving out aggressively both on the security front and on the reconciliation front. And there's a lot of good work going on, because both of those tracks have to go on together if there's going to be security in Baghdad.
Raddatz: [Abizaid] said it's the worst sectarian violence he's seen in Baghdad in particular.
Casey: There's no --
Raddatz: Same assessment?
Casey: There's no question. The sectarian, the levels of sectarian violence in Baghdad in the last probably six weeks are higher than they've ever been. And that's a bad thing. In the last two weeks, they have dropped off some, too early for a trend, but the six last weeks or so have been the highest levels of sectarian violence that I've seen since I've been here.
Raddatz: We're 75 days into the Maliki government. But what's happened in these last six weeks? What's happened in the last year to cause this downturn?
Casey: What we saw is toward the end of June in the aftermath of Zarqawi's death, a concerted push of suicide attacks. So right at the end of June, first week or so in July, there was a big spike in suicide attacks that provoked the retaliation from the death squads. And that's what caused it to blow up during that period.
Now what's gone on over the last two years? There's been great progress over the last two years and you've been here enough where you've seen the situation ebb and flow just like it is now. We're ebbing right now. And we're going to come out of it just like we have in the other places. And if you think about how you felt, or I'll think about how I felt before Fallujah or before the elections in January. We're in a much better place than we were in both of those periods.
Raddatz: I think probably one of the things people may not understand is that they basically moved their operations to Baghdad. I mean, this was the center of gravity not only for you and for the people of Iraq but for terrorists, insurgents, whoever, and Zarqawi. It was what he wanted to do right?
Casey: Right. And he said it in all of his documents. And Baghdad is the center of the country. It's been the dominant center of the country for 35 years under Saddam Hussein. And I think what we're also seeing now is a bit of jockeying for position among the different sectarian groups here as we approach the provincial elections.
Raddatz: The threat of civil war, how serious is that?