By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2006 – The ongoing effort to secure Baghdad is an evolution, and solutions must be long-term, the spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq told reporters in Baghdad today. "Abating the extremists in the capital will neither be easy nor rapid," Army Major General William Caldwell said of progress in Operation Together Forward. "Challenges will ensue, but efforts will march forward block by block."
A variety of activities are occurring in Baghdad, with Iraqi and coalition forces working together to help quell violence and build stability, Caldwell said. Caldwell cited some of the statistics that reflect Operation Together Forward's impact: 3,000 buildings cleared, more than 20 suspects detained, more than 50 weapons and eight cars seized and more than 330 weapons registered.
But the most significant developments are less easily measured. "What really matters is the number of businesses that reopened and will remain open, the refurbished stalls ... in the marketplace there," he said. "The drainage has improved. The rubbish is removed. And of course, like we'd all like to see, the number of children that you can see during their summer break out riding their bikes and playing in the streets."
Caldwell said U.S. soldiers he met with over the weekend in the Dura district say they're impressed by the caliber of their Iraqi counterparts. "I was immediately informed Iraqis are inherently better at search operations than coalition forces," he said. "They know what to look for. They have a sense when something is askew, based not only on their training and experience, but based on their innate knowledge of the language and the people."
This gives Iraqi security forces an edge over U.S. and coalition troops, Caldwell said. "Iraqi army and police personnel understand the hierarchy of Iraqi family relations, the interaction with neighbors, male versus female attitudes, and all the likeliest places that perhaps one would stash weapons or something else that is illegal," he said.
Iraqis recognize that military power alone isn't enough to restore security in Baghdad and have the will to see the effort through, Caldwell said. "The military forces, the Iraqi security forces, the coalition support can help set the stage for peace to occur, but they cannot achieve peace," he said. "It's going to take all the other factors. It's going to take the economics; it's going to take the governance; and, most importantly, it's going to take the will of the Iraqi people to make this both work and sustain itself.
"But they've absolutely got the commitment," he added.
Caldwell quoted colleagues in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense who have said it serves little purpose to ask when a particular phase of Operation Together Forward began, what phase it's now in or when it will end. "As they say, 'Working to counter terrorism is constant,'" he said.
The plan will end when security is achieved, Caldwell said, still quoting Iraqi officials, and when Baghdad residents have restored services, economic opportunities and hope for the future.