By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
Coalition forces are increasingly shifting from a lead role to a supporting role in Iraq as Iraqi forces take responsibility for more territory and security operations throughout the country, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq said today. In a news conference from Iraq, Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, said that although Iraqis are taking more responsibility, the coalition and Iraqi shared goal remains the same: a free and strong country with a representative government that respects and protects the rights of all its citizens and can be a valued ally in the fight against extremism.
"While we can help create the conditions that are necessary for progress, the achievement of our shared goal is ultimately the responsibility of the Iraqi people and their elected leaders," Caldwell said.
Caldwell noted that Iraqi army units continue to take the lead in their areas of operations. On Oct. 24 in Ramadi, the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, assumed responsibility in its area of operations. Now six of 10 Iraqi army divisions, 30 of 36 Iraqi army brigades, and 90 of 112 Iraqi army battalions are in the lead, he said.
"We operate in support of them," he said. "All across Iraq, we continue to see an increasingly capable Iraqi security force continuing to take the lead."
Iraqi-led operations have been successful in rooting out terrorists and finding weapons caches, Caldwell said. From Oct. 14 to 25, Iraqi security forces with coalition support conducted 26 missions against death squads that resulted in the capture of three death squad cell leaders and 68 death squad members, he said. Also, from Oct. 12 to 25, about 70 focused operations against al Qaeda in Iraq resulted in 18 terrorists being killed and 219 suspected terrorists being detained.
Iraqi forces recently concluded an important operation that disrupted a terrorist operational hub southwest of Baghdad, Caldwell said. During Operation Commando Hunter, which began on Oct. 2, Iraqi forces found more than 130 weapons caches, killed five terrorists, and captured 25 suspected terrorists. They also seized the abandoned Yusufiyah thermal power plant, which was known to be a staging area for terrorist attacks.
Operation Commando Hunter was yet another example of the Iraqi forces rooting out foreign influences and creating their own bases from which to attack terrorists, Caldwell said.
The level of violence in Baghdad has decreased sharply since the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Caldwell said. The violence is lowest in areas that Iraqi and coalition forces have already cleared, he noted.
There have been recent violent incidents around Iraq, Caldwell acknowledged, but in every instance, Iraqi security forces responded quickly, calmed the situation and prevented the violence from spinning out of control.
"What we see in actions taking place all over Iraq is that Iraqis are taking charge of their country, and they're doing it valiantly," he said. "Violence will flare up again in areas that are under Iraqi control. The question will be, 'Can they handle these situations themselves?' In all of these incidents, they did. They responded, and they returned calm to the areas. The Iraqis brought an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem, which is precisely the strategy for Iraq."
Progress and violence coexist in Iraq, and the security situation is complex, Caldwell said. However, the Iraqi government is constantly working to find solutions to the difficult challenges it faces, he said.
"We, the coalition forces, are constantly adapting our efforts to enable this government to continue to make the difficult choices and to set the conditions for an Iraq that can govern, defend and sustain itself," he said.