By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 6, 2007 – The Iraqi people are taking a stand against al Qaeda beyond Anbar province, Multinational Force Iraq's new spokesman said today. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, who spoke during a phone interview today, called the Iraqis' stance against the terror group the "Anbar Awakening." In the past six months, local tribal leaders and sheikhs in the Sunni province have disavowed the terror group's tactics and have turned to the Iraqi government.
Violence in the province has plummeted, and local men are flocking to police and army recruiting stations.
Now Iraqis outside Anbar are experiencing their own awakening, Bergner said. In Almariyah, a mixed neighborhood in Baghdad, local Iraqis are turning against al Qaeda following a series of horrendous attacks against local sheikhs and civilians there. "The locals standing up against al Qaeda and separating themselves from them," he said.
Bergner said Iraqi government and coalition officials are encouraged by the trend.
However, the general warned against jumping to conclusions or making premature assessments of the Baghdad security plan. "We're still positioning the forces committed to Baghdad," he said.
Four of the five additional U.S. brigades planned for in the "surge" are in Baghdad with the fifth arriving. "In the next couple of weeks, we will see all five start their operations," Bergner said.
Even with this, there will still be a delay as units assume their battle positions. "When there is a transition, even when the force is fully operational, there is a period of time ... as they master their environment and as they learn to work with the Iraqi security forces and local people and they really start to operate against the threat in their new sectors," he said.
The general highlighted the role of the newly established joint security stations and combat outposts around Baghdad. "Where the Iraqi coalition forces are integrated in those stations, it's really a powerful result," he said.
Bergner, who served in Mosul in 2005, spoke about a recent visit to Ramadi. He said coalition officials using reconnaissance assets were able to contact Iraqi police officers to investigate the situation. The general was amazed at the capability. The Iraqi police could not have done this when he was last in Iraq, he said. "It's a great improvement in our capability and in the way we interact with the Iraqis," he said.
Bergner said that the trajectory of the country has already changed. From January to today, the amount of sectarian violence has dropped. It has not been a straight drop, and in May it rose over April. "That is the nature of progress here in Iraq. It is non-linear. It's definitely uneven, so you're going to see those interruptions, corrections," he said.
The final parts of the surge are moving in to position. "We really don't want to let expectations and assessments get out in front of the force that's still flowing," he said. "The fifth brigade is significant increase in our capability. It's going to create new opportunities for us, and so where we've been up til now is less interesting than where we're going to go."
The bottom line for servicemembers is that the battle for Baghdad is going to be a tough fight, Bergner said. "We've seen the courage of the Iraqi people as they stand up to al Qaeda," he said. "The coalition forces have more troops going to more places, making more contacts, and we are contesting places we haven't been for some time.
"It's going to get harder before it gets easier."
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