By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
April 13, 2007 – With more than half of the U.S. surge troops in Baghdad, there has been steady progress in the Baghdad security plan, a top U.S. commander in Iraq said today. Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, spoke to Pentagon reporters via a video hook-up from the Iraqi capital. He said there has been progress in the security situation in Baghdad, but that "real success is based on sustaining progress over the long term, with eventually Iraqis alone providing security to their people."
Three of the five promised U.S. brigades are in place in the city, he said. An additional three Iraqi brigade headquarters and 11 additional battalions have moved into Baghdad in support of the operation.
Twenty-six joint security stations in Baghdad are manned by Iraqi army, Iraqi police and coalition forces, as are more than 21 combat outposts. "This continuous presence is making the Iraqi people feel safer and has greatly increased the amount of information provided to the Iraqi army, police and coalition forces by the public," Odierno said.
Sectarian murders have dropped in Baghdad, and some displaced families are returning to the city, the general said. In addition, coalition and Iraqi forces have doubled the number of arms caches found since the beginning of the operation two months ago.
"Just yesterday, in the Mansour district of Baghdad, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry, Strykers and the 6th Iraqi Army uncovered a cache which was a key logistics node for multiple (improvised explosive device) cells in western Baghdad," Odierno said.
Security forces allow citizens to return to a more normal existence, Odierno said.
"Across Baghdad, markets are being hardened with checkpoints and barriers, and merchants have returned to sell their produce," he said. "And Iraqis are busy shopping in the markets of Rusafa and Dura, and there are more projects such as these ... that will occur in the near future."
Positive changes are not limited to Baghdad, he said, they are also happening in Anbar province, where coalition and Iraqi security forces are working with local tribal leaders.
"The people of al Anbar are fighting back and winning," Odierno said. "They've effectively turned back the tide of al Qaeda, but there will be counterattacks by al Qaeda."
The general said there were nine attacks last week in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province. "During the same week a year ago, there were over 84 attacks," he said.
Odierno said he also sees promise in the northern part of Iraq. Coalition forces there have set up 33 U.S. police transition teams to build law enforcement capability in that region. Oil is flowing out of the Bayji refinery thanks to Iraqi security force efforts to protect distribution tankers.
Progress continues in the country's south, as well. "In the south, Operation Black Eagle in Diwaniyah, conducted by joint Iraqi and coalition forces, uncovered a headquarters of a rogue element of Jaysh al-Mahdi, with a major weapons cache including materials for IED-making," he said.
Even the demonstrations called by radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr on April 9 to protest the U.S. presence in Iraq are a good sign, Odierno said.
"This demonstration took place without incident," he said. "It is worth mentioning three points related to this demonstration. First, the government of Iraq allowed the demonstration to take place, unthinkable under the former regime. Second, the demonstrators waved Iraqi flags rather than black flags or pictures of ayatollahs. And third, the demonstrators numbered no more than 15,000, rather than the one million its organizers called for."
Odierno said challenges definitely remain. Al Qaeda continues to try and set Shiia against Sunni; Shiia militias continue to try to usurp power from the legitimate government; and Iran continues to train and arm Iraqi insurgent groups.
"We continue to see indications of Iranian influence in Iraq, including providing arms, training and safe haven to terrorists targeting Iraqis and coalition forces," he said. "In the past two weeks, we've found caches with 60 mm mortars, (rocket-propelled grenades), hand grenades, C4 explosive, 170 mm rockets. And in one particular cache, we found over 120 Iranian explosively formed projectiles."
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