Baghdad's Palestine Hotel Targeted for Media Value, General Says
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
"Half the battle is in the battlefield of the media," Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, said. "The terrorists will use the media as a combat multiplier to hide their limited capabilities."
The general said terrorists recognize the value of the media. Al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, expressed this sentiment in a letter to Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believed to be leading insurgent actions in Iraq. The letter was intercepted by coalition intelligence sources.
Lynch pointed to the Oct. 24 bombing of the Palestine Hotel as an example of planning an operation for media attention. The hotel is host to international journalists and contractors and has security cameras surrounding it. The attack, which was caught on surveillance cameras and aired worldwide, was meant to shift the world's focus to Baghdad and away from the progress that's being made throughout the country, he said, urging the reporters present not to allow that to happen.
These kinds of attacks, meant to disrupt and derail the democratic process in Iraq, can be expected to continue through scheduled Dec. 15 elections, Lynch said. Though insurgents' attempts did not dissuade voters from participating in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum.
"If you look at the referendum results, what you see is a large participation across the country of Iraq," he said. "Of note is the participation in the Sunni dominated provinces."
In Salahuddin province, 30 percent of registered voters cast ballots in January elections. Ninety-one percent voted in the October referendum, Lynch said. Anbar and Ninevah provinces also showed marked improvement in voter turnout.
The referendum was ratified Oct. 25 after 78 percent of the nearly 10 million Iraqis who voted approved the document.
"We've said all along that two significant events have to take place as we work our way toward (a free, democratic Iraq)," Lynch said. "One is political progress, the other is increased capabilities of the Iraqi security forces. And we indeed have political progress because the people of Iraq are participating."
Progress is also being made on the second goal. More than 207,000 Iraqi security force members are trained and equipped, he said. Of that number, 120 army and police battalions are in the fight, and 30 percent of those battalions are able to take the lead on security operations.
Some of these Iraqi security forces proved their capabilities Oct. 20, conducting a cordon-and-search operation that turned up blasting caps, resistors and chemical materials used in making improvised explosive devices, Lynch said.
In the first three weeks of October, 1,300 rockets, 1,300 mortars and 2,800 artillery rounds have been recovered, he said.
"Given the desires of the insurgents, all those munitions would have been made into IEDs and (vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices)," he said, noting that 61 percent of U.S. casualties result from IEDs and car bombs. "What are detailed, deliberate operations -- joint and combined with Iraqi security forces -- led by tips by the locals, have allowed us to find and destroy these munitions."
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