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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

22 August 2006

Security in Baghdad Improving, Say Coalition Officials

Security operations, civil projects to help Iraqis reject sectarian violence

Washington – Iraq’s security situation is gradually improving, says the Coalition Force’s top leadership.

“We’ve seen a positive trend over the past five weeks,” said U.S. Army General George Casey, commander of the Multi-National Force – Iraq in an August 22 interview with National Public Radio.  “The operations we’ve been doing have had a positive impact.”

Approximately 3,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in terrorist attacks and ongoing sectarian violence last month despite the efforts of the Iraqi government to improve security.  As a result, some critics have concluded that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Baghdad security plan, known as “Operation Together Forward,” is insufficient to keep Iraq from edging closer to a civil war.     

President Bush rejected this assessment in an August 21 press conference, praising Iraqis for their courageous pursuit of a peaceful, unified country and pledging the continued support of the United States. 

“The strategic objective is to help this government succeed,” Bush said.  “I have given our commanders all the flexibility they need to adjust tactics to be able to help the Iraqi government defeat those who want to thwart the ambitions of the people."

Casey, the president’s top military commander in Iraq, told NPR that Baghdad is safer two months into “Operation Together Forward,” but acknowledged that much work remains to be done.

SECURITY IMPROVING, BUT CHALLENGES REMAIN

In an August 22 operational briefing from Baghdad, coalition forces spokesman U.S. Army Major General William Caldwell told journalists that over the previous week Iraqi and coalition forces launched 22 successful operations across the capital against insurgents, terrorists, and militants engaged in sectarian violence, detaining more than 100 individuals and seizing several caches of illegal weapons and bomb-making equipment.  In all, more than 28,000 buildings have been searched and secured since the beginning of the security effort in early June.  (See related article.)

Iraqi army and police forces were also successful in preventing a large-scale attack during this week’s celebration of the Shi'a festival of Musa, attended by more than 1 million people.  Caldwell stated that when attackers fired on the religious pilgrims, Iraqi security forces demonstrated their increasing effectiveness by rapidly responding to the attack, killing six and detaining 19 others.   

“The government of Iraq has shown its commitment to providing the conditions by which religious freedom can be practiced without fear of persecution or attack,” Caldwell said.  "This was a tremendous demonstration of the increased capabilities of the Iraq security forces and the leadership of the government of Iraq."

In addition, he reported, progress continues to be made in a series of civil works projects in Baghdad’s secured neighborhoods.  Iraqi and coalition forces have worked with district councils in Dura, Ghazalia and Amiriyah to fund trash removal, sewer system repairs, and other public endeavors to help area residents take back their community. (See related article.)    

“We are cautiously optimistic and encouraged by all the indicators we are seeing,” he said. “What we are seeing in these areas is life coming back to some normalcy.”

SECTARIAN CONFLICT NOT A CIVIL WAR, SAYS BRITISH GENERAL

With violence restricted to only four of the country’s 18 provinces and an elected government firmly in control, Iraq is experiencing an “intense sectarian conflict,” but not a civil war, said Lieutenant General Sir Robert Fry, deputy commander of coalition forces and the United Kingdom’s top officer in Iraq.

“I know what a civil war looks like from experience in the Balkans and parts of Africa.  I also know what sectarian violence looks like from all the time that I've spent in Northern Ireland,” Fry told reporters via videoconference from Baghdad. 

Instead, Fry explained, the conflict can be largely attributed to a “process of settlement,” as Iraq’s Shi’as come to terms with decades of discrimination under Saddam Hussein’s rule, and some former Sunni elites respond violently to a perceived loss of privilege. 

“I do not see that as civil war, and neither do I draw glib differences between civil war and sectarian conflict,” the British general said,  “I think the difference is very substantial and still in existence in Iraq today.”

As in Northern Ireland, military force can buy time for the new Iraqi government’s efforts to hasten the healing process begun under its National Reconciliation and Dialogue project, Fry said.  (See related article.)  

“The government is making every attempt that it possibly can to accelerate that process,” he said, “And I think our function is here to provide the framework to permit that to happen.”  

A transcript of Fry’s briefing is available from the U.S. Department of Defense Web site.  A transcript of Caldwell’s briefing, as well as briefing slides (PDF, 5 pages) and a video link, are available from the Multi-National Force–Iraq Web site.

A transcript of President Bush’s August 21 press conference is available from the White House Web site.  

For more information, see Iraq Update.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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