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American Forces Press Service

Insurgency Unpopular; Iraqi Forces Growing More Capable

By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2005 The June 14 capture of Muhammad Khalaf Shakar reflects the growing intolerance of the Iraqi people for an "unpopular insurgency" and shows the increasing capability of Iraqi security forces, a U.S. military official in Iraq said today.

Shakar, also known as Abu Talha, was captured in a quiet Mosul neighborhood. U.S. officials said he is terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's most trusted operations agent in Iraq.

"Over the past few months we've had considerable success taking apart the Abu Talha network in the Mosul area," Air Force Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, said in a Baghdad news conference. "This success has included killing or capturing cell leaders, car-bomb makers, financiers, extortionists, kidnappers, foreign fighters, as well as those Iraqis who support terrorists."

Alston said the capture occurred in part due to "constant pressure" applied to the insurgency by coalition and Iraqi forces, but also because of cooperation from Iraqis.

"This is a major defeat for the al Qaeda terrorist organization in Iraq. Zarqawi's leader in Mosul is out of business," Alston said.

Previous reports indicated Talha wore a suicide vest 24 hours a day and that he would never surrender. Instead, Talha gave up without a fight, according to U.S. Central Command officials.

"Information from Iraqi citizens contributed to the capture of Abu Talha, further evidence this increasingly unpopular insurgency has ordinary people stepping up against terror," Alston said.

Meanwhile, the same day in Kirkuk, a homicide bomber detonated himself in a crowded area of the city. Alston said retired Iraqis were in a bank line waiting to cash their pension checks. The attacker pushed a cart with explosives in front of the bank and detonated the bomb, killing two dozen and wounding 90.

Despite terrorists' claims, Alston said, older civilians were the targets of this attack, continuing the trend of attacks specifically aimed at civilians in Iraq. Alston noted that possibly thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed since Zarqawi proclaimed in May that civilians were legitimate targets for his bomb squads.

Iraqi security forces have suffered significant casualties in recent months, too. While he could not provide a definitive number, Alston said Iraqi forces have taken more casualties recently, partly due to their increase in numbers, but also due to their increased operational tempo.

"There are roughly 169,000 Iraqi police and Iraqi army troops that are in the fight," Alston said. "Their confidence and their growing capability make them what the enemy would call a necessary target, because as every day goes by and as their confidence grows, they become even more of a substantiated threat to the insurgency."

The Iraqi security forces show "great promise in their ability to continue to shoulder the load here in fighting this insurgency," Alston said. However, he added, Iraqi forces are still growing and learning.

"It is essential for us to not forget that we started this army from scratch a year ago and they've come a long way to be where they are today -- from virtually no organization, to over 100 battalions today," Alston said.

Alston pointed to successful operations throughout Iraq as an indicator that the Iraqi forces were gaining more momentum. Specifically, he referred to the Talha capture, in which Iraqi forces supported coalition forces. He also pointed to the rescue of Australian Douglas Wood who was taken hostage earlier this year.

Iraqi military forces discovered Wood as they conducted routine operations. The Iraqis had not planned a rescue mission, but discovered Wood nonetheless using what Alston described as "a combination of training, a combination of instinct, and professionalism." Coalition forces supported the hostage rescue.

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