By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
April 26, 2007 – Sensational car bomb attacks staged by al Qaeda in Iraq may grab headlines, but coalition and Iraqi forces are making real progress on the ground and steadily achieving significant successes, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq told reporters here today. "The situation is, in short, exceedingly challenging, though ... there has been progress in several areas in recent months despite the sensational attacks by al Qaeda, which have, of course, been significant blows to our effort and which cause psychological damage that is typically even greater than their physical damage," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said at a Pentagon news conference.
The level of horrific attacks like the one that killed nine U.S. soldiers at a patrol base in Diyala province April 23 is still too high, Petraeus said, and U.S. and Iraqi forces are focusing heavily on preventing them. However, the beginning stages of the new Iraqi security plan are encouraging as the coalition makes progress against al Qaeda in Iraq and extremist militias, and helps the Iraqis improve governance, he said.
Baghdad is still the main effort in the new security plan, Petraeus said, and the increased presence of U.S. and Iraqi forces has helped drive down the level of sectarian violence there to two-thirds what it was in January. The effect of these forces, which are now stationed at joint security stations and combat outposts throughout the city, can especially be seen in areas that previously did not have a security force presence, he said.
"Beyond this, we are seeing a revival of markets, renewed commerce, the return of some displaced families and the slow resumption of services, though I want to be very clear that there is vastly more work to be done across the board and in many areas, and I again note that we are really just getting started with the new effort," he added.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have achieved some important successes against al Qaeda in Iraq in the past two months, Petraeus said. Forces have killed the security emir of eastern Anbar province, detained a number of key network leaders, discovered how various elements of al Qaeda operate, taken apart a car bomb network that had killed 650 citizens of Baghdad, and destroyed several significant car bomb factories.
Al Qaeda "remains a formidable foe with considerable resilience and a capability to produce horrific attacks," but is increasingly alienating Iraqis with its attacks methods and ideologies, he said.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have also achieved successes against extremist militias in Iraq, Petraeus said, and notably, some Sunni insurgent groups are beginning to join other Sunni tribes in turning against al Qaeda.
"We will continue to engage with Sunni tribal sheikhs and former insurgent leaders to support the newfound opposition of some to al Qaeda, ensuring that their fighters join legitimate Iraqi security force elements to become part of the fight against extremists, just as we reach out to moderate members of all sects and ethnic groups to try to drive a wedge between the irreconcilables and the reconcilables, and help the latter become part of the solution instead of part of the problem," he said.
While progress on some key laws has been slow, the Iraqi government has made some significant progress in passing important laws, such as the budget law and base hydrocarbon law, Petraues noted. To encourage further progress, the coalition and the U.S. embassy are doubling the number of provincial reconstruction teams, establishing a law and order task force, developing an energy fusion cell, and increasing emphasis on ministerial mentorship, he said.
"I believe Prime Minister (Nouri al-)Maliki and many other Iraqi leaders are committed to achieving more in this area in the months ahead," Petraeus said.
The successes U.S. and Iraqi forces have achieved have not come without sacrifice, Petraeus noted. The increased presence of troops in the cities and their activities in areas that were previously sanctuaries for extremists have led to increases in casualties, he said. He warned that the situation "may get harder before it gets easier," and success will ultimately depend on Iraqi actions.
"The situation in Iraq is, in sum, exceedingly complex and very tough," he said. "Success will take continued commitment, perseverance and sacrifice, all to make possible an opportunity for the all-important Iraqi political actions that are the key to long-term solutions to Iraq's many problems."
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