By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2006 – The Iraqi people will need to carry forward positive trends in Baghdad, a coalition spokesman said there today. Army Major General William Caldwell, of Multinational Force Iraq, said operations in and around Baghdad are designed to reduce murders, kidnappings, assassinations, terrorism and sectarian violence in the capital.
Operations are pinpointed at the Doura, Shula and Ameriyah neighborhoods -- all areas threatened by sectarian violence. All three areas have both Sunni and Shiite populations. Iraqi soldiers and police are carrying out most operational missions, while coalition forces provide security cordons and quick-reaction forces.
Operations look beyond short-term security concerns, Caldwell said. The mantra is "clear, hold, rebuild." Iraqi and coalition forces clear neighborhoods and hold them so terrorists cannot come back, and they invest in rebuilding essential services and stimulating economic growth. Since operations began Aug. 8, more than 7,000 homes and businesses and 19 mosques have been cleared. Iraqi forces have detained 47 people and discovered eight weapons caches.
Building economic opportunities cements progress being made. "Over 700 local citizens are currently employed, with more being employed each day," Caldwell said. "The economic piece, so vital to what we are all attempting to achieve here in the Baghdad area, is starting to take place. We see new stores in Doura opening each day. Residents tell us that within Doura itself just recently, two banks have opened that have not been opened for over two years, and Iraqi security forces are down there helping provide the security necessary so that they can function in a safe environment."
Caldwell said the core conflict in the country has changed from an insurgency to a sectarian struggle. Sunni and Shiite extremists are "seeking to control key areas of Baghdad, create or protect sectarian enclaves, divert economic resources, and impose their political and religious agendas."
Shiite death squads and Sunni terrorists in Baghdad are locked in a mutually reinforcing cycle of sectarian strife, Caldwell said. Both groups are trying to portray themselves as defenders of their respective sectarian groups. Al Qaeda in Iraq has launched a propaganda campaign that seeks to portray the terror group as a legitimate political organization and an alternative to the legitimate, democratically elected government of Iraq, Caldwell said. "Their primary goal in discrediting the government of Iraq is the expulsion of the U.S. from Iraq," he said.
However, the group does not protect citizens, but kills them. Al Qaeda in Iraq is still bringing in foreign fighters to randomly kill innocent Iraqis. The group has encouraged sectarian violence and sees it as a road to civil war, Caldwell said. "Al Qaeda in Iraq encourages Sunni and Shiia in fighting and believes a widespread sectarian divide will force the United States into neutrality and, ultimately, departure," Caldwell said. Iraqi and coalition forces will continue to degrade the al Qaeda in Iraq network by removing key and mid-level leaders and aggressively targeting foreign fighter networks, Caldwell said.
"As al Qaeda in Iraq attempts to recover from this degradation, they continue to be a primary instigator of sectarian violence in Iraq," he said. "A significant portion of detained terrorists are providing clear, actionable intelligence for Iraqi and coalition forces to continue the methodical, deliberate efforts to eliminate terrorism here in Iraq. Iraqi and coalition forces will continue to work closely with each other and with the Iraqi citizens to establish peace and security throughout Iraq."