By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 25, 2007 – The Iraqi soldiers and units working with the Multinational Division North are "holding firm," the director of operations for the division said today from his headquarters in Tikrit. "They are in the fight. They're doing what they're told. They're following their leaders," Army Brig. Gen. John Bednarek said. "But more importantly, as we've known for years that they have that direct link and rapport with the citizens that the coalition forces do not have, they can get that immediate link, ... the human dimension, that information potentially leading to intelligence."
Bednarek, the 25th Infantry Division's assistant division commander for operations, told reporters in Baghdad that the division's soldiers "have killed a heck of a lot of al Qaeda" in operations in western Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province.
He said the division also has detained almost 100 al Qaeda members. U.S. and Iraqi forces are participating in Operation Arrowhead Ripper, designed to kill or capture al Qaeda operatives in the city and ensure security for Iraqi citizens.
Al Qaeda leaders already have deserted their fighters, Bednarek said. "You've got the senior leaders of a terrorist organization that cowardly leads their mid-level leaders and followers to take on the fight that's larger than they are," he said. "I don't know of any organization that's going to be successful when the leaders, when it gets too hot, they're the first ones that leap. It doesn't speak too well of an organization."
The Iraqi army, on the other hand, is performing well, he said. "The Iraqi army soldiers are good," Bednarek said. "They're holding firm. They are in the fight. They're doing what they're told. They're following their leaders."
And the Iraqi soldiers also are the immediate link to the people of the country. They are able to sift through the cultural baggage and assess whether an item is important or not, the general said. The citizens of Baqubah are tired of al Qaeda in their midst, they are tipping off Iraqi soldiers about the terrorists' locations, and they are pointing out where al Qaeda has booby-trapped houses and are building car bombs, the general said.
"One of the significant increases just in the past 24 hours is the amount of caches that we have found and ... those al Qaeda holding locations and strong points that had been rigged with masses of explosives ... that we had been able to find and dismantle or destroy based on tips from the citizens," he said.
The progress is not limited to Baqubah; coalition forces uncovered a car-bomb factory in Mosul. Three large houses linked together by a tunnel served as a vehicle-bomb factory and storage area, and also as a center for building roadside bombs, Bednarek said.
"This entire operation started by a tip," he said. "The tips were from our local nationals there in Mosul, through our Iraqi security force counterparts. And we took action on this, identified the information, vetted that, went after the target and destroyed it."
Those tips stopped al Qaeda from killing possibly thousands of Iraqis, Bednarek said.
The general said Operation Arrowhead Ripper has been successful so far, and that he is cautiously optimistic that in the weeks ahead, "not only will we win this fight and eliminate al Qaeda in Baqubah, but continue to pursue them wherever they go across Diyala and across MND North."