By Carmen L. Gleason and Sgt. Sara Wood, American Forces Press ServiceAugust 27, 2007
WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, Aug. 27, 2007) - Iraqis who once aligned themselves with militants are now taking up arms against al Qaeda, a top commander in the Iraqi capital said during a conference call Aug. 24.
Likening members of terrorist organizations to "street gangsters," Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of Multinational Division Baghdad and 1st Cavalry Division, said Iraqis are becoming tired of price gouging on staples such as gasoline and ice when militant groups move in and take over neighborhoods.
"We have found that throughout the city there is increasing distrust, fatigue and disillusionment by the population with al Qaeda and Jaysh al-Mahdi (militia group)," he said. "There is a strong desire in the neighborhoods to turn away from them."
Maj. Gen. Fil said coalition troops are continuing to take away the enemy's ability to control neighborhoods and to brutalize the population.
"Every day we're working with Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government to place power back in the legitimate hands of the average Iraqi civilian," the general said.
Local citizens now are more openly embracing Iraqi security forces and are beginning to respect and trust their fellow citizens in uniform, he added.
Now 10 months into their deployment, Maj. Gen. Fil said troops of the 1st Cavalry Division are fully integrated and "up to speed" with surge operations. "The division continues to excel in this campaign as we try to bring security and stability to the Iraqi capital," he said, as he described that more than 50 percent of Baghdad is in the "control" or "retain" phase of the overall Baghdad security plan.
In a February briefing, Maj. Gen. Fil described the mission in Baghdad as "clear, control and retain." In the "clear" phase of a mission, Iraqi and U.S. forces move into neighborhoods and clear out extremist elements. In the "control" phase, the combined forces maintain a full-time presence on the streets, Maj. Gen. Fil explained. The forces will man combined security stations, which are being built all over the city, and will work to establish conditions that allow Iraqi forces to take over operations completely.
The "retain" phase comes when Iraqi forces are responsible for day-to-day security operations and coalition forces can move out of the neighborhoods and into areas where they can respond if assistance is needed.
Maj. Gen. Fil said today that fewer innocent Iraqis are being murdered as a result of sectarian violence, and statistics show that murders are at their lowest since the beginning of surge operations.
"Markets that were once targets by indiscriminant killers are now safer and thriving," the general said. "And more and more Iraqis are turning from the 'rule of gun' to the 'rule of law.'"
The last several months have been challenging, Maj. Gen. Fil said. "And I don't expect things to get any easier in the months ahead, but I do fully expect to see the same steady progress that we and the Iraqi security forces have made in bringing stability to neighborhood by neighborhood throughout Baghdad."
MG Lynch's Assessment
As the U.S. troop plus-up has taken effect in areas of Iraq, Iraqi citizens are shifting away from extremist groups and stepping forward to assist coalition and Iraqi security forces and secure their communities, a U.S. commander in Iraq said Aug. 24.
The increase in troops allows the coalition to move into areas that previously had no coalition or Iraqi security force presence and get rid of extremist elements, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Multinational Division Center, told reporters at the Pentagon via videoconference. As soon as locals see that the security forces are committed to staying and securing a neighborhood, they readily step forward to help, Maj. Gen. Lynch said.
"Over the last four months, we've seen an interesting shift," he said. "Iraqi citizens are coming to us and providing information. These citizens are speaking up about what they've seen; they're talking about what they've heard and about any activity that jeopardizes the rebuilding of their country."
Maj. Gen. Lynch also talked about the "concerned citizens" program, which involves about 10,000 Iraqis assisting security forces by manning checkpoints and providing intelligence information. The dedication of these citizens allows local governments to work on reconciliation, which will give the central government in Baghdad a strong foundation to work from for national reconciliation, he said.
"With our help, the Iraqis are starting to realize that they can establish order and accountability in their lives," Maj. Gen. Lynch said.
Maj. Gen. Lynch's forces took responsibility for the Multinational Division Center area, which includes the southern edge of Baghdad and stretches from the border of Saudi Arabia to the border of Iran, in April. Since then, attacks in the area are down by 26 percent and civilian casualties have decreased by 36 percent, Maj. Gen. Lynch said. Since June 15, coalition forces in the area have killed or captured 16 high-value individuals and in the past four months have captured or killed about 1,000 insurgents, he added.
"We're buying time and space for the Iraqi people to come together and determine their future," Maj. Gen. Lynch said of his unit's efforts. "It's reconciliation from the ground up, by helping the Iraqis see that they have something worth fighting for and protecting. Some days are better than others, but we continue to make progress."
Despite progress in his area, Maj. Gen. Lynch voiced concern about Iranian influence he sees in insurgent groups. U.S. Soldiers are coming under attack from weapons originating from Iran, specifically rockets and components of explosively formed projectiles, a deadly type of roadside bomb, he said. Also, he said, U.S. officials believe some Shiia militants are being trained by Iranian elements and passing that training on to others inside Iraq. In addition, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are facilitating training and transfer of weapons and munitions in Iraq, he said.
Sunni militants also are getting Iranian technology, though it's not clear if that's through the black market or other means, Maj. Gen. Lynch said. Coalition forces are looking closely at weapons they recover, studying such things as tool marks and the source of explosives to determine their origin, he said. Forces in Multinational Division Center have captured more than 117 Iranian-made munitions since April, he said.
The coalition is working with Iraqi security forces to bolster security at the Iranian border and prevent these Iranian-made weapons from reaching Iraq, Maj. Gen. Lynch said. In the near future, 2,000 Republic of Georgia soldiers will help secure six checkpoints along the border, thoroughly inspecting every truck crossing along the main westbound routes toward Baghdad, he said.
The enemies of Iraq have suffered many losses in the past few months, but they will not go away anytime soon, Maj. Gen. Lynch said. Coalition forces fully expect them to launch more spectacular attacks and will continue pursuing them to prevent that from happening, he said. As Iraqi citizens show more courage and determination to stop violence, the coalition will have a better chance of success, he said.
"They're showing a will to continue to make ... a safe future a reality," he said of the Iraqis. "If we have faith in them, they'll have faith in us and their future."