By Tim Kilbride, American Forces Press ServiceApril 6, 2007
WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, April 5, 2007) - Tangible gains in Baghdad's security situation have been made possible in part by the cooperation of vastly improved Iraqi security forces, a coalition spokesman said yesterday.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, Multi-National Force - Iraq spokesman, said that with 50 out of 75 planned U.S.-Iraqi joint security stations and combat outposts already in place throughout the Iraqi capital, the sustained, neighborhood-level presence is leading to an "effect that we can actually see."
Speaking from Baghdad to a group of online journalists, Caldwell pointed to a decrease in the number of sectarian murders and assassinations, a reduction in the number of car bombs, and a diminished capability for insurgent elements to move within the city.
The effect of Operation "Fardh al-Qanoon" -- "Enforcing the Law" in English - on sectarian militia activity has been equally apparent, Caldwell said.
Discussing Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, Caldwell said, "Its ability to act in a coherent, organized manner has been degraded. We could see some fracturing that's occurred for various reasons.
"That's maybe part of the reason why we're seeing much greater cooperation occurring within Sadr City as we continue operations there now, having actually done clearing of about 40 percent of that city," he said.
But despite progress on many fronts, terrorist activity remains a significant threat, Caldwell noted.
Al Qaeda in Iraq "is going to continue to attempt high casualty, headline-grabbing attacks both in their target areas" in Baghdad and increasingly in less intensely-manned areas outside of the city, the general said.
He described the terrorists' goal as "fomenting chaos while trying to discredit, one, the government of Iraq and its ability to provide security for the people, and two, to discredit the Iraqi security forces themselves."
The Iraqi police and armed forces, however, have benefited from coalition training programs to the point they are making a credible and necessary contribution to the fight in Baghdad, Caldwell said.
They have "become more capable literally almost every week as they continue their operations," he noted. "We count on them very much."
Caldwell reflected on failed past attempts to use the Iraqi force, and drew a sharp contrast between their past and current performance.
"As part of this Fardh al-Qanoon, they brought into the city about 4,500 extra troops, nine battalions with some headquarters," he said. "They're already starting to work the plans on how they would do the rotation out of those nine and bring nine more in. I mean, that is just an incredible step forward to have developed that capability over the last year."
Caldwell took a long view toward fully developing the Iraqi military. "From better equipment, more capable leadership, and the quality of their young Soldiers, they developed a professionalism inside their force," he said. "It's going to still take time, but it's beginning to take hold."
Referring to the U.S. political debate over financing the war, Caldwell said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has plans in place to grow his country's security forces, but execution could be affected a lack of timely funding for the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq teams charged with training those new police and Soldiers.
"At the current moment, because of this lack of funding, MNSTC-I is unable to continue at the pace they were in the developmental process of the Iraqi security forces," Caldwell said. "It is starting to have some impact today, and will only have more of an impact over time."
Caldwell clarified that U.S. combat forces on the ground have not been affected by funding issues. For those troops specifically, he said, "We still have what we need to conduct our operations."
With funding in place, the U.S. surge strategy is continuing on schedule for now, the general stated. "The third of five of our reinforcing brigades has now arrived inside of Iraq," he said, noting it should be able commence operations within a week.
Signals on the ground suggest the surge is working, Caldwell said, but he emphasized it is premature to draw conclusions until the full force is in place.
"There are a lot of other positive indicators that tell us this could be moving in the right direction, but again, it's going to take some time before anybody would ever make that type of assertion," he said.
Responding to reports that Iraqi public opinion has turned against the U.S. presence, Caldwell admitted many Iraqis want foreign troops to leave, but not until the security situation improves. "Atmospherics," he said, suggest "the number of people that want us to remain right now has continued to rise" over the past eight months.
As an example of Iraqi sentiment, Caldwell quoted the Sunni police chief of Fallujah on his feelings toward the U.S. mission: "General, it is true, we don't want you here, and I want you to leave, but not right yet, not until we gain greater security here."
U.S. commanders recognize that sentiment and point to it as justification for a continued presence, Caldwell explained.
"I found that very illuminating," he said. "They're recognizing that the teamwork there is actually helping bring down the levels of violence."