By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Aug. 23, 2006 – Operation Together Forward, the Iraqi-led operation to reduce violence in Baghdad, is progressing well and is improving the security situation around the Iraqi capital, a Joint Staff official said here today. Over the last five weeks, the number of incidents of sectarian violence in Baghdad has decreased steadily, Army Brig. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, deputy director of regional operations for the Joint Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference. This success is a direct result of the efforts and dedication of Iraqis, he said.
"I attribute it to an Iraqi government that has committed itself to ending sectarian violence, and I attribute it to the capability of the Iraqi security forces," Barbero said. "Two-thirds of the forces on the ground in Baghdad are Iraqi security forces. The feedback ... from the population in the areas we've cleared are all very positive about removing the threat of this violence, the performance of the Iraqi security forces, and their confidence in the government."
As the operation progresses, Iraqi forces take more and more responsibility for areas and missions, Barbero said. Last week, Iraqi forces were the lead for security for the annual Shiite pilgrimage to Baghdad, he said, and U.S. leaders say they did a superb job. Barbero added that this morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that Iraqi security forces will be able to assume responsibility for more provinces in the coming year. "We see continued improvement of the Iraqi security forces -- by now, about 275,000. The numbers, the capability and the equipping increase continuously," Barbero said.
The operations in Baghdad are important because 90 percent of sectarian violence in Iraq occurs within 30 miles of the city, Barbero said. Border operations are also crucial, he said, as Iranian influence is strong among extremist groups. Training and equipping border police will do a lot to decrease the Iranian influence, and the U.S. will continue to support the Iraqi border forces as they develop capabilities, Barbero said. Operations targeting the extremist groups in Baghdad also will help solve the problem of Iran, because it will cut off Iran's direct influence into the country, he said.
In addition to targeting extremist groups, the U.S. is working on refocusing the Iraqi police to hone their civil policing skills, so they will be ready to take over security in the city when the operations are over, Barbero said. After areas are cleared of violence, civil works and economic development also will be brought in to improve the overall situation in the city, he said.