By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 29, 2007 – Americans still face a tough fight inside Baghdad, but the trend lines are improving, the commander of Multinational Division Baghdad said today. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., speaking from Iraq, told Pentagon reporters that the overall trend lines in the city are positive. "The number of attacks, first of all, has come down," he said. "The effect of those attacks has come down significantly."
One example is in car bombs. While the number of car bomb attacks has remained relatively constant since November 2006, the effects of those attacks have dropped.
"That's due to safe neighborhoods that have been created, the safe markets that have been created," he said. Division and Iraqi forces have worked hard to target car bomb cells, and the cells used to command and control the bombers, he said.
The number of murders in Baghdad also has dropped, he said. There have been five murders in two days and, while any murder is unfortunate, "the numbers are way lower than they were when we started this," Fil said.
The division also is working to reconcile sectarian groups and bring more people under the Iraqi government umbrella.
"We are in reconciliation with many of the tribes both inside and outside of Baghdad, and it is not a matter of arming militias," he said. "In fact, these tribes are already well armed. What we are doing, though, is embarking in a dialogue with them, and some of them who have previously been fighting us have come to us as we have spoken with them, and they want to fight with us."
Fil said Iraqis "are tired of al Qaeda and the influence of al Qaeda in their tribes and in their neighborhoods, and they want them cleaned out."
The groups want the alliance, and Fil said it is a positive development. However, officials remain cautious. "We are working closely with the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces," he said.
Any who volunteer to work with the division must sign an oath of allegiance to the nation of Iraq. "They have to renounce violence," he said. "If we do embark upon organizing them into groups, it has to be done under the auspices of either the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of Interior."
The division is working with a group of 1,500 men in the Abu Ghraib area who want to serve in the security forces of Iraq. They are very carefully vetted with tribal leadership, and then they are brought before an Interior Ministry panel for the interview process.
"So it's a deliberate program," Fil said. "I think it's got huge promise. We're very excited about it. It is not just on tribes, it's also inside the city in some of the neighborhoods. We'd like to do the same thing with some of the Shiia groups as well, both on the east and west side of the rivers."