By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
May 17, 2007 – Al Qaeda is the chief threat plaguing the residents of Anbar province in western Iraq, a senior U.S. military official said yesterday. "The main enemy facing the Iraqi people in al Anbar province is al Qaeda," Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference today.
Al Qaeda possesses a backward, hateful ideology that's been rejected in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, Caldwell said, noting the terrorist group routinely employs murder and chaos to further its aims.
Al Qaeda terrorists operating in Iraq offer Iraqis just two choices: death or submission, the two-star general said.
Conversely, U.S. forces deployed in Iraq are there "to secure progress and provide hope," Caldwell said.
"We want to help the Iraqi people develop a secure, stable and self-governing nation that they can be proud of," Caldwell said.
American forces are assisting the Iraqis to achieve that goal by training army and police forces and instituting the rule of law across Iraq's court system, he said. "We want to help the Iraqis build capable police and courts so that the people can believe in the rule of law instead of fearing the law of the gun," Caldwell explained.
The United States shouldn't pull its troop out of Iraq before the job is finished, Caldwell said. "This is a very complex and challenging fight, but that doesn't mean we should desert the Iraqi people to their enemies," he said.
Measurable progress has been made against al Qaeda terrorists and other insurgents operating in Iraq since the surge of U.S. and Iraqi security forces began in mid-February, Caldwell said.
For example, he noted, an al Qaeda member, Abu Nur, who's alleged to have headed the group's Baghdad operations, was caught in December 2006 and is now facing murder charges in a Baghdad court room. The captive terrorist has admitted complicity in 800 to 900 car and roadside bombings in Baghdad and the surrounding area, Caldwell said.
"Abu Nur has claimed that al Qaeda targets everybody. He claims there aren't any innocent people," Caldwell said, noting evidence has tied the al Qaeda network to savage bombings of innocent Iraqi men, women and children.
Al Qaeda's and Abu Nur's "absolutely disgusting" beliefs and actions, amply illustrate why the terrorist group is "being increasingly rejected by the Iraqis, particularly out west in al Anbar province," Caldwell said.
For example, the city of Ramadi in mostly Sunni Arab-inhabited Anbar province was formerly a hotbed of violence directed against U.S. and Iraqi security forces, Caldwell explained. Weekly attacks and murders committed against civilians and Iraqi and coalition security forces have decreased from a high of 108 at the end of February to just seven in the week ending May 11, he said.
Anbar province's tribal leaders and citizenry are simply fed up with al Qaeda's murderous agenda, Marine Brig. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, ground forces commander for Multinational Force West, said during the news conference.
The province's tribal leaders "are on board to get rid of public enemy number one, which is al Qaeda," Gurganus said, noting the province's young men are joining Iraqi security forces in record numbers.
Anbar province's tribal leaders "are bringing their young men to us and saying, 'I will guarantee his behavior; I will guarantee his participation in conjunction with the coalition force to fight as a son of Anbar and to fight for the Iraqi government,'" Gurganus said.
What is occurring in Anbar demonstrates "a major shift" in residents' thinking, Gurganus said. "It is clearly a move away from any of the ideological pieces that al Qaeda has to offer, to where they understand now that they're going to be part of a functioning government in Iraq," he said.
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