By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2006 – Iraq's governmental leaders are rising to confront "an array of complicated issues" amid a spike in insurgent violence, a senior U.S. military officer said today. "The U.S. and coalition leadership commends this perseverance, while the Multinational Force Iraq continues to assess and revise our strategy and tactics to support this government" in an ever-changing, dynamic environment, Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently announced the formation of a special committee to address the country's illegal militia issue, Caldwell said.
The Iraqi government, he added, is also seeking to reform its security ministries. In fact, the Iraqi government reassigned a number of leaders of the national police on Oct. 16, Caldwell said.
"Although the leadership at the division level has changed, the National Police continued to prove itself as a capable, and viable civil force," Caldwell said.
Caldwell commended the Iraqi military and police efforts in combating the insurgency. In fact, he said, Iraqi security forces are finding "a good number" of weapons caches being discovered throughout Iraq. That's because the Iraqi forces are knowledgeable about their areas of operation, Caldwell said, and are growing in size and professionalism.
Caldwell cited a recent joint Iraqi and U.S. Marine operation in Anbar province that resulted in the detention of more than 35 suspected insurgents and the discovery of thousands of hidden weapons.
That operation, he said, collected more than 11,000 pieces of weapons and ordnance between Oct. 7 and Oct. 13, including much material suitable for making improvised explosive devices.
Discovery of weapons caches in Iraq has increased over the past few months, Caldwell said, noting 170 caches were found in July, 190 in August, and 220 in September.
"Already this month, 144 caches have been found," Caldwell said.
And Iraqi security forces are continuing to grow in numbers, as well as in capability, Caldwell said. More than 312,000 Iraqi soldiers and police, he said, have been trained and equipped by coalition forces.
Caldwell pointed to the Iraqi government's recruiting plan to bring more than 30,000 new Iraqi troops to serve in troublesome Anbar province by May. And more than 600 Iraqi police recruits, the general noted, are slated to graduate this week and begin work in the troubled province.
In February, 3,800 Iraqi police officers were working out of 14 active Iraqi police stations in three of the nine districts in Anbar province, Caldwell said. Today, there are 33 police stations operating in eight districts, he noted, with more than 8,000 trained Iraqi police.
Caldwell acknowledged there's been an increase in insurgent violence since the start of Ramadan in late September. That's consistent, he said, with similar spikes in enemy activity that have occurred during the month-long Muslim observance in the past two years.
"The violence is indeed disheartening," Caldwell said, noting there's been a 22-percent increase in insurgent attacks in Baghdad during the first few weeks of this year's Ramadan observance. But Operation Together Forward has made a difference, and has helped to reduce the amount of sectarian violence in the specific Baghdad neighborhoods it has operated in, Caldwell said. Still, he acknowledged, it hasn't caused a reduction of the overall level of violence in the city.
Meanwhile, "we are working very closely with the government of Iraq to determine how to best to re-focus our efforts," Caldwell said.
It's no coincidence that insurgents in Iraq have chosen to escalate their attacks and target U.S. forces just before a major American election, Caldwell said. Just a year ago, he noted, extremists did their best to interfere as Iraqis successfully conducted their own nationwide election that established their democratic government.
"The enemy knows that killing innocent people and Americans will garner headlines and create a sense of frustration," Caldwell said. "However, the coalition will not be deterred from establishing an Iraq that can provide for its own security and can govern itself."
That goal "is achievable," Caldwell emphasized, "with a combination of both tough security measures by coalition and Iraqi security forces and a political process that recognizes that 11 to 12 million Iraqis voted for a unity government."