By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, July 10, 2006 – U.S. and Iraqi security forces will go after any rogue band or group that preys on innocent Iraqi citizens, a senior U.S. officer said in Baghdad today. "That is something that we're not going to tolerate," Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, told reporters in Iraq's capital city.
Caldwell was responding to a reporter's question about news reports that said rogue gunmen operating in southeastern Baghdad yesterday had used illegal roadblocks to stop and murder innocent Iraqis. The gunmen detained and killed several Iraqi citizens at those checkpoints, according to a U.S. military statement released yesterday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "has been very clear" about confronting and eliminating any groups of rogue gunmen, Caldwell said. "He has said that anybody who is operating outside of the law is subject to be dealt with severely by Iraqi security forces and coalition forces," Caldwell said of Maliki's viewpoint on confronting armed gangs. U.S. and Iraqi forces have been installing a new security strategy for the Baghdad area for about a month now, Caldwell said. That plan includes operations aimed at armed gangs, he said, and no one organization has been singled out for special attention.
Yet, Caldwell acknowledged that U.S. and Iraqi officials are closely observing the activities of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Baghdad-based "Mahdi Army" militia group. "We are very concerned about it," Caldwell said, "because, obviously, the goal of this whole Baghdad security plan is to bring greater security to the Baghdad area." About 8,000 coalition and 42,000 Iraqi security forces are posted across Baghdad, he said.
Caldwell said Maliki's top goal is improving security in Baghdad, with Iraqi security forces in the lead and U.S. and coalition forces taking a supporting role. Any gangs that attack innocent Iraqis are firmly in the sights of U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces, Caldwell said. "If we find them engaging in illegal activities, we're going to target them, and we're going to go after them."