By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2006 – Combined U.S.-Iraqi operations in Baghdad have produced real results for citizens there, who are seeing improvements in their neighborhoods and basic services and who report a stronger feeling of security, a top U.S. general in the area said today. As neighborhoods are cleared of violence through Operation Together Forward, Iraqi citizens are slowly returning to their everyday lives and gaining more confidence in the military and police forces, Army Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of Multinational Division Baghdad, said in a news conference from Iraq.
"The whole point is to keep the people looking forward to a better future," Thurman said. "It will take time, and it requires more than just a military solution to stop violence. The Iraqis have to want unity and security more than we do, and I believe we're beginning to see that."
Unity and security are required to achieve long-term prosperity in Baghdad, so governmental involvement in the holding and reconstruction of neighborhoods are paramount in order to maintain security and create a functioning society, Thurman said. The government needs to deal with the problem of militias and set the conditions for economic development, and Iraqi security forces need to increase their presence and influence in the city, he said.
"Baghdad security hinges on the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces," he said. "They are fighting and dying for their country every day and have made great strides."
In Baghdad, there are 15,000 coalition forces, 9,000 Iraqi army forces, 12,000 national police officers, and 22,000 local police officers on the streets, Thurman said. Thurman has requested two additional Iraqi army brigades to assist in holding neighborhoods, and the Iraqi Ministry of Defense is working to fill that requirement, he said.
"I would tell you I need more Iraqi security forces," he said. "I don't think putting more coalition in here is the right answer. That's my answer because, I think, with the security forces from the Iraqi side that we have, they're committed."
At the beginning of Operation Together Forward, there were only two Iraqi brigades and six battalions in the lead in operations in Baghdad, Thurman said. Today, more than 26 battalions and several Iraqi divisions are operating in the lead, and the national police are very active, he said.
Over the past couple of months, there has been a reduction in sectarian violence in Baghdad, and as areas are cleared, murders and attacks are significantly reduced, Thurman said. He acknowledged an increase in attacks this week, but attributed that to the increased number of Iraqi forces challenging the insurgents on their own territory.
Military means alone cannot win the fight in Baghdad, Thurman said. Political and economic interests are critical to the effort, and the Iraqi government is working to set the conditions for success, he said.
"I think the government is trying to come to grips with the security needs, and we have a determined enemy out there that's trying to disrupt this government -- a democratic form of government," he said. "And we're here assisting them to work through these tough security issues."