By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 29, 2007 - Coalition and Iraqi forces have been making gains against al Qaeda in Iraq, as citizens step forward to help the security forces and take more responsibility for their country, two U.S. generals in Iraq said today. "We know this will continue to be a tough fight and that we must keep the pressure on these (insurgent) networks, but the courageous stand of the local citizens and their cooperation with Iraqi security forces is making a difference," Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, said in a news conference in Baghdad.
Bergner highlighted recent gains coalition and Iraqi forces have made, such as:
-- Yesterday, Iraqi forces responded rapidly to violence targeting religious pilgrims in Karbala. The Iraqi government also responded, increasing security measures and providing on the ground leadership to help ensure restraint and order.
-- On Aug. 20, operations in Tarmiya resulted in the death of an al Qaeda leader who oversaw terrorist operations in the northern belts of Baghdad. The leader was killed after he grabbed a coalition soldier and attempted to detonate a suicide vest.
-- Combined engagements this week in the city of Khalis resulted in 33 terrorists killed and three detained and allowed coalition forces to reopen a water canal that had been cut off by insurgents.
-- On Aug. 27, nearly 1,000 sheiks and leaders met to reinforce national attention on efforts of reconciliation in the Taji area and to denounce terrorism.
-- On Aug. 26, Iraqi soldiers in Mosul stopped a series of insurgent attacks, including two car bomb attacks, a motorcycle-bomb attack, and an al Qaeda ambush.
Bergner pointed to actions of Iraqi security forces in Mosul as proof that Iraqis are in the center of the fight against al Qaeda. "Their courage and perseverance are hard to adequately describe as they fight every day to restore security in their neighborhoods," he said.
Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, joined Bergner at the news conference. He recounted his experiences travelling around Iraq and visiting local security forces. The Iraqis are committed to the fight, he said, but still face many challenges in developing their forces.
Dubik said that he and the Iraqi ministers of defense and interior have to look not only at the fighting force, but at the larger ministerial capacity to keep those forces supported. There has been progress on this front, as the two ministries have increased their defense spending by $4.5 billion over the last two years, he said.
An encouraging recent development has been the spike in numbers of police officers hired by the Iraqi government, Dubik said. In Anbar, more than 8,000 police officers were hired; in Diyala, 5,000 policemen were hired; in Abu Ghraib, 2,000 police officers hired; and in the next six months, about 12,000 new policemen are expected to be hired in Baghdad. This increase is attributable to the surge in offensive operations in the area, he said.
"The reason I find this exciting is, police should provide security, and these are areas that are in transition from security provided by military forces to security provided by police," Dubik said.
Because Iraqi security forces have grown so quickly, they face a number of challenges, Dubik said. First, it is easier to recruit soldiers than it is leaders, so the force ends up unbalanced. Second, it takes longer to develop mid-grade officers who can lead units effectively. Third, it is difficult to get sufficient equipment delivered on time to units. And fourth, the government must build bases to house units as they are stood up.
"These are all very hard problems, no doubt about it. But ... hard doesn't make it hopeless; it just makes it hard," Dubik said.