By Jim Garamone
BAGHDAD, Aug. 12, 2006 – The coalition commander responsible for operations in the Iraqi capital is optimistic about what he has seen since operations to quell sectarian violence here started. Army Major General James Thurman, commander of Multinational Division Baghdad, said forces have been concentrating on four major hot spots. He spoke to reporters traveling with Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is visiting troops in Iraq.
Essentially, the concept calls on coalition and Iraqi forces to cordon off an area and search each street, house by house, Thurman said. Doura - a mixed Shiia and Sunni area - is one of the hotspots. The area had 20 sectarian murders one night before the operation started. The plan zeroes in on reducing the number of murders, kidnappings, assassinations and car bombs, Thurman said. Doura has about 135,000 people living in more than 16,000 homes. Iraqi forces carry most of the water in the operation. They search the mahalas - neighborhoods - that are causing the problems. "We've dropped the violence down to near nothing," Thurman said.
Multinational Division officials said the Iraqis, backed by coalition forces, have cleared 5,500 homes in Doura. "We have to clear those mahalas and get the cells out of there and then hold those areas, protect them and build civil capacity," Thurman said.
The 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team gives Multinational Division Baghdad the added mobility, flexibility and agility to maneuver anywhere in the city, Thurman said. The unit was due to rotate back to Alaska following a year in the Mosul area. The Army extended its time in Iraq for up to 120 days and assigned it to Baghdad.
The civil work is key to getting the Iraqis to stop the cycle of tit-for-tat sectarian murders. Iraqi officials in Doura are clearing the garbage from the streets, dismantling illegal roadblocks and engaging with district and neighborhood advisory councils. The people in the mahalas have confidence that life will improve for them, and that the government is the way forward, Thurman said.
Once the Iraqi security forces clear the neighborhood, Iraqi police hold the area and Iraqi officials work to ensure the essential services - electricity, water and sewage - are working in those areas. Other local officials work to ensure economic opportunity in the area.
"The Battle of Baghdad is about perception and building trust and confidence in the average citizen of Iraq," Thurman said. The general said the operation will spread to other hot spots in Baghdad. "The whole Mansour area is a hot spot," he said. "We've got a positive trend happening, but it's the will of the Iraqi people that we need to continue (to encourage). We will work closely with the Iraqi government to deal with the sectarian strife. I believe the average Iraqi is tired of violence."