By Jim Garamone
As expected, violence in Iraq has dropped following the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a coalition spokesman said in Baghdad today. Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said civilian and Iraqi security force casualties were at the lowest levels since the government was formed in May.
So far this month, the civilian casualty count is well below the casualty count in October and below the six-month average. The security force casualties reduced 21 percent over the past four weeks, and are at the lowest level in 25 weeks, he said.
"In Baghdad, there was a 22 percentage drop in casualties related to sectarian violence and executions," Caldwell said during a televised news conference. "Coalition forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces to control the sectarian violence and terrorist attacks."
But attacks do continue. The more the Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki asserts its authority, the greater the threat from foreign and extremist elements seeking to undermine both stability and reconciliation in Iraq, Caldwell said. "Last week we did see a spike in coalition and civilian casualties," he said. "Murders remain the gravest threat to civilians."
A new wrinkle is mortar attacks on markets and mosques, and coalition and Iraqi security forces are watching the situation and taking steps to prevent those, the general said.
He said Operation Together Forward - planned to provide security for the neighborhoods in Baghdad - will continue. Patrolling continues in some neighborhoods, he said, with roughly 95,000 buildings searched, 282 persons detained and 1,900 weapons seized.
In other neighborhoods, the Iraqis have moved into a protect-and-build strategy. "Stability means more than just freedom from fear; it means being able to count on essential services," Caldwell said. "Consequently, more than $7.5 million have been committed to these projects and essential services."
Iraqi public servants brave attacks to continue working on power generation, water treatment, trash collection to sewage disposal. He said over the past 11 months local civic leaders and soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division, which just transferred back to Fort Hood, Texas, worked hard in Baghdad to make progress in local improvement projects. "During that time, 146 water and sewage projects came on line, (along with) 140 educational projects, 57 medical and public health projects and 37 agricultural projects," Caldwell said.
The water and sewage projects undertaken through this partnership include the completion of 19 water treatment plants, six compact water delivery systems, 13 sewage pumping stations and the replacement of more than 25 kilometers of pipe. The 140 education projects included upgrading 111 school facilities that serve more than 310,000 elementary students. The 57 Baghdad medical projects include the renovation of 21 hospitals and clinics and building and opening six new clinics for the citizens of Baghdad.
"There is a committed effort to hire local Iraqi firms and workers," the general said. "These projects alone have provided over 23,000 jobs at the peak employment period."
Caldwell said there will be more transfers of authority to the Iraqis as the security forces become more capable. He used an operation in Diyala province as an example of the progress the Iraqi army is making. On Nov. 13, the Iraqis launched a joint operation to seize five major weapons caches. The Iraqi forces faced improvised explosive devices and numerous small-arms exchanges with enemy forces. The soldiers killed somewhere between 25 and 40 enemy fighters and detained another 23.
The raid resulted in taking hundreds of explosive rounds capable of being used in car and roadside bombs, and 300,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition. "This is potentially hundreds of car bombs that will never be built or detonated in Iraqi markets," Caldwell said. "This is 12,000 sniper rounds that will not be aimed at security forces."
Caldwell said it is impossible to estimate the number of attacks these raids prevented, "but it was significant."
"Iraq must have a security force that is competent, but also enjoys the confidence of its people," he said. The forces will continue to enforce the rule of law and free the country from the threat of militias. He said Iraqi confidence in the police is slowly rising, but will require continued reform.
The forces continue to combat sectarian violence, most of which, occurs within a 30-mile radius around Baghdad. Forces launched 58 missions against death squads that netted 184 cell members and eight cell leaders.
The coalition and Iraqis continue to attack al Qaeda in Iraq. The forces launched 92 focused operations that killed 48 terrorists and detained 286, Caldwell said.
The general also told reporters that U.S. forces remain committed to finding Army Spc. Ahmed Kusay Altaie, a soldier kidnapped Oct. 23. More than 3,000 coalition and Iraqi security forces are looking for him. "We will never stop looking for our servicemembers," Caldwell said. "Everyone must know that we will continue our intensive efforts to locate Specialist Altaie."
Caldwell said that all people want to see a unified, secure and prosperous Iraq, "but it will take time."
"The people in Iraq are showing tremendous perseverance in fighting these foreign influences that seek to destroy their goal of a unified Iraq," he said.
Article sponsored by Coast Guard Gifts and Police Officer turned law enforcement writer.