By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 24, 2007 - Iraqis who once aligned themselves with militants are now taking up arms against al Qaeda, a top commander in the Iraqi capital said during a conference call today. Likening members of terrorist organizations to "street gangsters," Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of Multinational Division Baghdad and 1st Cavalry Division, said Iraqis are becoming tired of price gouging on staples such as gasoline and ice when militant groups move in and take over neighborhoods.
"We have found that throughout the city there is increasing distrust, fatigue and disillusionment by the population with al Qaeda and Jaysh al-Mahdi (militia group)," he said. "There is a strong desire in the neighborhoods to turn away from them."
Fil said coalition troops are continuing to take away the enemy's ability to control neighborhoods and to brutalize the population.
"Every day we're working with Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government to place power back in the legitimate hands of the average Iraqi civilian," the general said.
Local citizens now are more openly embracing Iraqi security forces and are beginning to respect and trust their fellow citizens in uniform, he added.
Now 10 months into their deployment, Fil said troops of the 1st Cavalry Division are fully integrated and "up to speed" with surge operations. "The division continues to excel in this campaign as we try to bring security and stability to the Iraqi capital," he said, as he described that more than 50 percent of Baghdad is in the "control" or "retain" phase of the overall Baghdad security plan.
In a February briefing, Fil described the mission in Baghdad as "clear, control and retain." In the "clear" phase of a mission, Iraqi and U.S. forces move into neighborhoods and clear out extremist elements. In the "control" phase, the combined forces maintain a full-time presence on the streets, Fil explained. The forces will man combined security stations, which are being built all over the city, and will work to establish conditions that allow Iraqi forces to take over operations completely.
The "retain" phase comes when Iraqi forces are responsible for day-to-day security operations and coalition forces can move out of the neighborhoods and into areas where they can respond if assistance is needed.
Fil said today that fewer innocent Iraqis are being murdered as a result of sectarian violence, and statistics show that murders are at their lowest since the beginning of surge operations.
"Markets that were once targets by indiscriminant killers are now safer and thriving," the general said. "And more and more Iraqis are turning from the 'rule of gun' to the 'rule of law.'"
The last several months have been challenging, Fil said. "And I don't expect things to get any easier in the months ahead, but I do fully expect to see the same steady progress that we and the Iraqi security forces have made in bringing stability to neighborhood by neighborhood throughout Baghdad."