Surge Continues to Help Iraqi Government Make Progress
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
The trends in Iraq are encouraging, said Army Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, a Joint Staff spokesman. Overall violence in the country is down to level it was at before the Golden Mosque bombing in Samarra in February 2006.
Al Qaeda in Iraq fanned sectarian fires in Iraq with the dramatic attack. But now, car bombs, improvised–explosive-device attacks, civilian deaths, and attacks against coalition and Iraqi security forces are all down.
“Iraqi security forces and coalition forces have been able to respond effectively to the violence during this Ramadan season, and al Qaeda and other extremist groups are losing support due to their indiscriminate targeting of civilians,” Sherlock said.
Much remains to be done, however. Civilian deaths are still too high, and the Iraqi government must continue to improve basic services to all its citizens, he said.
The number of American servicemembers in Iraq has started to drop, with 2,200 Marines from 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit redeploying from Anbar province and not being replaced. If the security situation holds and improves, all five surge brigades will be out of Iraq by summer 2008, the general said.
Still, the situation in Iraq remains difficult. “We have many insurgent groups in Iraq: it’s not a simple Sunni or Shiia or other group insurgency,” he said. “There are also a lot of criminal activities that go on in Iraq; there are a variety of foreign fighters in Iraq.”
Coalition and Iraqi security forces are working hard to target groups inside Iraq that are acting against coalition forces. “There are a lot of things contributing to the drop in violence,” he said. Coalition and Iraqi security forces are targeting violent groups to reduce their capacity.
Security forces have kept a sustained presence in areas where there had been no sustained presence. This removed terrorists’ safe operating areas. “We’re also seeing a number of local neighborhoods turn against those extremists groups,” he said. “We’re seeing a number of tribal efforts against those extremists.”
The Iraqi government is working to reconcile with groups that are reconcilable, Sherlock said. “There are irreconcilables in Iraq that you don't have much of an option with other than to kill or capture,” he said. “Those groups that are reconcilable, I think, the government of Iraq is reaching out to, to try to bring them into the government, to try to bring them into places where they're tied to the central government.
“I think we're seeing positive results of that … in different neighborhoods around Baghdad, around the Arab Jabour area, around Baqubah,” he said. “So I think there are positive results out there.”
The coalition is out to get groups that use violence. Sherlock specifically said that coalition and Iraqi security forces are not arrayed against Jaysh al-Mahdi, the militia affiliated with Shiia Imam Muqtada al-Sadr. “We're not at war with JAM; we're not at war with any specific group,” Sherlock said. “What we are doing is we're looking at those groups who are fighting against coalition forces and Iraqi security forces and are targeting civilians and are targeting different neighborhoods in a way that isn't contributing to the security and stability of Iraq.
“Those groups we will continue to hunt down; those groups we will continue to try to separate from the population and make them ineffective.”
Iraq is not the only success, he said. American servicemembers have worked with members of the Philippine armed forces for the past five years. “The United States has supported the Philippine armed forces in a successful campaign to re-establish the legitimacy of the Philippine government in some of the outer islands and to establish a safer and more secure environment in the Sulu Archipelago,” Sherlock said.
The effort in the Philippines is a model of multi-agency operations with an ally. Military personnel have provided essential training to improve the capacity of the Philippine armed forces by training and equipping the country’s first counterterrorism force. They also helped train three infantry brigades and trained senior staffs to conduct combined brigade-level operations. “The results of which have allowed the Philippine armed forces to neutralize some key terrorist leaders,” Sherlock said.
U.S. forces have contributed humanitarian services and contributed multiple projects improving the quality of life for Philippine citizens. They helped the Philippine government build 16 schools, seven medical facilities, over 80 kilometers of roadways and 25 water improvement projects, he said.
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