Baghdad Security Efforts Seem to Yield Results
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 7, 2007 – Although it’s too early to draw firm conclusions, the new combined Iraqi-U.S. security effort to reduce violence in Iraq’s capital city already seems to be bearing fruit, a senior U.S. military officer said today in Baghdad.
Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, talked with a group of Internet journalists and bloggers during a telephone conference call from Baghdad today.
Caldwell said that there has been an increase of citizen-provided tips to Iraqi and coalition authorities in the three weeks since Operation Law and Order kicked off. These tips have been used to find several insurgent bomb-making sites and weapons caches in the Baghdad area.
Despite renewed suicide-bomber attacks on religious pilgrims, like the one in Karbala yesterday that killed more than 100 people, Sunnis and Shiites living together in Baghdad’s mixed neighborhoods are demonstrating restraint in not escalating the violence, Caldwell said.
Another positive sign is that more people are staying put, the general said. “We’re very encouraged over these last two or three weeks and seeing people not moving out (of Baghdad), not changing homes,” he said.
Part of Baghdad residents’ determination to stay the course is likely due to a more proactive security stance adopted by U.S. and Iraqi forces, Caldwell said. American troops and Iraqi soldiers and police have been establishing 10 security districts across Baghdad to institute an around-the-clock presence to deter insurgent violence.
The strategy of establishing dozens of joint Iraqi-U.S. security posts across Baghdad appears to be working, Caldwell said. Original plans called for setting up 35 or 40 such outposts, he said, but now it appears there’ll be nearly twice that number.
“We’re now looking at 70 of them,” Caldwell said. Although U.S. troops and Iraqi soldiers and police may be increasing their exposure by operating from such outposts, he said, this blanketing-of-forces strategy actually decreases the overall risk.
Officials believe that placing high-visibility outposts in Baghdad’s neighborhoods will serve to assuage citizens’ security concerns while deterring insurgent activity, Caldwell said. This is a change from the U.S. maintaining large compounds of troops that were relatively isolated from surrounding Iraqi communities.
To be successful in prosecuting counterinsurgency operations, “you have to protect the people,” Caldwell said.
“We are finding, at least here (in Baghdad), in the initial couple of weeks, that there is much greater protection being provided to them by (instituting) a greater, enduring presence out in the city than there was going back and forth from large operating bases,” Caldwell said.
Iraqi residents of the Sadr City section of Baghdad, a formerly violent part of the municipality, are being non-confrontational and cooperative as U.S. and Iraqi forces move in, Caldwell said.
Earlier this year, President Bush directed the deployment of more than 21,500 additional U.S. soldiers and Marines to Baghdad and restive areas of western Iraq. However, the Iraqis are taking the lead for the operation, Caldwell said, noting that Iraqi Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar is directing both U.S. and Iraqi security forces from his Baghdad headquarters, which was activated March 1.
Two of the five additional U.S. brigades involved in the force plus-up have arrived in Iraq, Caldwell said. The third brigade is now in Kuwait awaiting deployment into Iraq. And, seven of a projected nine Iraqi battalions involved in the surge are now in Baghdad, he said.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new Multinational Force Iraq commander, has been busy visiting U.S. and Iraqi commanders and troops across Iraq in recent weeks, Caldwell said. Petraeus will hold his first news conference as MNFI commander tomorrow.
Petraeus will emphasize that pacification of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, while difficult, “is doable,” Caldwell predicted, cautioning that this will take some time to accomplish. He added that insurgents are likely to continue their resistance against Iraq’s unity government.
Caldwell said Iraqi soldiers and police are stepping up to assume security planning and operational responsibilities as never before.
“There are truly a lot of very positive steps being taken forward as they continue to develop their capabilities to command and control their organization,” he said.
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