By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
April 11, 2007 – Organized protests in Iraq four years after the country's liberation are symbols of new political freedom that was suppressed by Saddam, a coalition spokesman in Baghdad said today. "I saw Iraqis exercising some of their political freedoms ... in Najaf and Kufa," Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told reporters two days after the fourth anniversary of Saddam's ouster. "As is their right in this new Iraq, some of them even demonstrated against their democratic government and its allies."
Such displays are welcome given they are carried out peacefully. "Waving the new unity flag is better than what we saw in past years when marchers carried weapons, and held up photos and symbols of division," Caldwell said.
Iraq is led by a representative unity government, and there is a constitution that secures the right of free assembly and political expression for its citizens, he said.
"We would all hope to be further along after four years," the General said. "But I do think we should acknowledge how far the Iraqi people have come."
Recent progress has been aided by Fardh al-Qanoon, the Baghdad security plan announced Feb. 13. that includes initiatives to create Joint Security Stations throughout Baghdad and deploy five additional U.S. brigades in and around the city. Civilian casualties in Baghdad have declined for the third consecutive month, Caldwell said.
The general said he recently toured the Joint Security Station in the Zafaraniya district of east Baghdad, a mixed community where Iraqi army forces are working with Iraqi police. "They are (conducting) aggressive patrols to establish trust and safety," he said.
Increased contact between Iraqi security forces and citizens builds confidence in the rule of law, and demonstrates to Iraqis that militias and outlaws are not the solution for long-term security, he said.
The third of five American reinforcement brigades just arrived, and the remaining two brigades will be in Iraq by the end of May. "We know this increased security presence and cooperation from the people is having an impact in Baghdad," Caldwell said. "For one thing, it is taking weapons off the streets, and out of the hands of murderers."
Before Fardh al-Qanoon, coalition and Iraqi forces were finding an average of 24 weapons stockpiles per week. Seven weeks into the new security plan, combined forces are discovering weapons at a rate of 36 stockpiles per week, a 50 percent increase, he said.
In Baghdad's Jihad district, an Iraqi citizen tipped off his local Joint Security Station April 9 that a neighbor possessed illegal weapons.
"We dispatched a security force to the location specified by the Iraqi tipster (and) they found a black Mercedes sedan in front of the home," Caldwell said. "On the backseat was a recently manufactured Iranian rocket. They opened the trunk (and) inside they found some recently manufactured weapons from Iran."
Inside the house and in the backyard, combined security forces found a cache of Iranian weapons containing 60mm, 81mm and 107mm mortar rounds, and a type of rocket-propelled grenade only produced in Iran. The geometry of the munitions' tailfins and other unique markings distinguish the rounds as Iranian-made, said Caldwell, who warned against foreign influence in Iraq.
"The death and violence in Iraq is bad enough without this outside interference," he said. "Iran and all of Iraq's neighbors really need to respect Iraq's sovereignty and allow the people in this country the time and the space to choose their own future."
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