By Gerry J. Gilmore
Dec. 15, 2006 – The commander of a U.S. Army brigade that partners with and trains Iraqi soldiers and police in Iraq's Diyala province today praised the recent actions of local security forces and civilians there. Terrorists in Diyala province continue to try to destabilize the democratic Iraqi government through the use of improvised explosive devices, snipers, kidnappings and threats to innocent Iraqis, Col. David Sutherland, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference from his headquarters in Baqubah, Iraq.
"However, it does not mean that they have won the battle there; in fact, far from it," Sutherland said of the terrorists' efforts in his area of operations.
Iraqi soldiers and police in his area aren't being cowed by the terrorists' actions, Sutherland said. "The Iraqi people are responding with great courage," he said, noting he'd recently witnessed bravery by a detachment of Iraqi police at a checkpoint who came under insurgents' small-arms fire.
"These men were low on ammunition, food and water, but they did not break," Sutherland said of the Iraqi police. "They stood their post, stood their post diligently."
Since assuming responsibility for security operations in Diyala province in early November, Sutherland said, his soldiers have been busy training Iraqi soldiers and police while taking the fight to extremists.
"Second, we are conducting stability and reconstruction operations to help the people of Iraq build a new life and a stable and secure environment," the colonel said.
Sutherland said his troops work closely with Iraqi police and soldiers. "This is a cooperative relationship. Coalition forces provide assistance and planning, logistics and operations, but increasingly, it is the Iraqi security forces that are in the lead," he said.
Diyala province is about the size of Maryland and has an ethnically-mixed population of about 1.5 million people, Sutherland said. The province is so ethically diverse, he said, that it is known as "Little Iraq."
Agriculture is the province's main industry, he said, noting the region's date harvest was up 75 percent from a year earlier, while its rice production jumped 50 percent from a year ago.
Baqubah's open-air markets are open for business, Sutherland said, adding that the provincial government is functioning and doing its work. A notable provincial government program actively seeks to more fully engage the area's various tribal and ethnic groups in the political process. "This sort of initiative is critical to the long-term stability of the province," Sutherland said.
Iraqi security forces are developing new tactics to use against terrorists operating in the province, Sutherland said, while his troops continue to train local police and Iraqi soldiers. "We are dedicated to helping the Iraqi security forces become a professional force that treats people with respect and enforces the rule of law, a force that is non-sectarian, professional and devoted to the safety and security of all Iraqis in the province," Sutherland said.
Developing a multi-ethnic, democratic culture in a land that's only known dictatorship for decades isn't an easy task, and it will take time, the colonel said.
Yet, despite challenges, he said, the 3rd BCT's troops are working hard in Diyala province, teaching Iraqi army and police leaders "how to be good representatives working on behalf of their people."
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