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American Forces Press Service

Job No. 1 in Northern Iraq: Keep al Qaeda on Ropes

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2007 – Keeping al Qaeda “on the ropes” is job No. 1 for the 1st Armored Division and Multinational Division North, the organization’s commander said today.

Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, who took command of Multinational Division North yesterday, said his command is well-positioned for success following the great work done by the men and women of the 25th Infantry Division. He spoke to online journalists and “bloggers” from his base at Forward Operating Base Speicher, near Tikrit.

Northern Iraq is a very complex unique and diverse environment, Hertling said, adding that the area is on “the verge of doing some strong things as Iraqis stand up against terrorism.”

Division soldiers discovered a huge explosively formed projectile factory in Diyala province that illustrates progress the area is making. An Iraqi citizen, tired of violence, told an Iraqi policeman of his suspicions about a house in his neighborhood. The policeman, in turn, went to his higher headquarters and the coalition.

Iraqi and coalition soldiers raided the house and found the largest cache of the killer projectiles, which included 130 pre-made weapons and 170 of the copper plates that form the projectiles themselves. The soldiers also found more than 600 pounds of C-4 explosives, rockets, mortar rounds and mortar tubes.

Hertling said cooperation from all strata of the command made the raid possible. The discovery hurt the enemy -- in this case, Shiite extremist groups most likely allied with Iran -- very badly.

This is Hertling’s second tour in Iraq. He was in country in 2004 as the assistant division commander. “Some of the things we’re seeing here -- the awakening, the reconciliation, the concerned local citizens -- all those things are a result of the people beginning to see they are, in fact, getting better security,” he said. “There is the potential for the government to start standing up.”

The Iraqi people appear to have made a decision to support the Iraqi government and the coalition. “This is much different than it was when I was here a couple of years ago, when it seemed the Iraqi people were on the fence and trying to decide which way things were going to go,” he said.

The division faces a lot of hard work, and job No. 2 is helping the local and provincial Iraqi governments establish themselves. Under Saddam Hussein, the central government ruled and told the provinces what to do.

Now, it’s an emerging federalist system, Hertling said, where each province -- like U.S. states -- has its own special interest. Seven provinces are in Multinational Division North, and each is very different.

“I think we’re seeing within the provinces a growing strength of government,” he said. “The governors are becoming more independent, like our governors are in the United States. One of the jobs we have in MND North is to help them push their agendas with the central government.”

The Iraqi government as an institution is trying to get its processes and procedures established “under some very tough and demanding and challenging situations,” he said. Hertling is not as hard on the Iraqi government as some people because he understands the pressures the government is under.

He said Ninevah province -- with the second-largest city in Iraq, Mosul -- certainly will go to provincial Iraqi control sometime between December and April.

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