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American Forces Press Service

82nd Airborne Commander: 'Iraqi-ization' Moving Forward>

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2004 - Iraqi police and other security forces are assuming more responsibility for security in their country every day, the U.S. general in charge of forces in western Iraq said in Baghdad today.

Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, said his troops are working closely with Iraqi police and Civil Defense Corps members. In the first week of February, Iraqi security forces in the Anbar province conducted 87 joint operations with coalition forces and 109 independent operations, he said.

During a Baghdad press conference, the general called this process "Iraqi- ization."

"Iraqi-ization is all about Iraqis taking charge and moving forward," he said about coalition progress in his sector.

He said he hopes Iraqi forces will take over security in the town of Ramadi within 60 days, and that forces in Fallujah and other cities would follow soon.

Local civilians are coming forward in increasing numbers to provide information on weapons and anti-regime elements. He noted that information from an Iraqi informant led to the capture last month of Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, No. 54 on the coalition's list of most-wanted Iraqis. That informant will receive $1 million reward Feb. 12, he added.

"(The capture of this) key financier and facilitator was a major blow to the anti-coalition forces out in al Anbar," Swannack said.

Tips from local Iraqis have increased 50 percent since January and 300 percent since October. "These local citizens are tired of the violence and want to provide a stable and secure Iraq," he said.

Coalition forces in Anbar Province have trained 3,300 civil defense corps members. And Swannack said he expects a major shipment of equipment for these forces to arrive "within the next 60 days."

The general had high praise for Iraqi border guards, customs and immigration officials, and local police, who worked closely with the Iraqi Red Crescent and local mayors to facilitate the movement of more than 16,000 religious pilgrims through Iraqi checkpoints during the recent Haj.

Muslims from around the world make this annual pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.

"Even more remarkable, they will handle up to 25,000 returning over the next week," Swannack said. "The entire Haj effort was planned and executed primarily by Iraqi officials and personnel.

"And I couldn't be more proud of the cooperative effort and work that has enabled us to go ahead and complete this grand event," he added.

The inaugural meeting of the provincial council in Anbar took place Feb. 9. The 41 council members had been elected through 25 caucuses in towns throughout the province.

Swannack said he had been invited to the inaugural meeting. "And I can report to you that the new elected council members are really excited about the democratic process," he said.

Job growth is exploding in the region. "As of today, more than 22,000 jobs have been created, and more are on the way," Swannack said. He described a new agreement with a businessmen's group that will create another 12,500 jobs in eight cities through a civil-improvement project.

Coalition and Iraqi officials are also making strong progress in ridding the province of weapons and munitions. To date, 85 of 95 ammunition depots have been destroyed. "We continue to employ almost 1,000 Iraqi workers with over 50 trucks daily to assist us in the reduction effort," he said.

Swannack said officials hope to have no more than three such depots still in place by mid-March.

"Al Anbar is about to take its role in a free and sovereign Iraq," he said. "People are back to work, essential services continue to improve, security forces are stepping out front, and progress can be witnessed there every day.

"Al Anbar citizens are excited about their future."

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