By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 24, 2007 - As the U.S. troop surge has taken effect in areas of Iraq, Iraqi citizens are shifting away from extremist groups and stepping forward to assist coalition and Iraqi security forces and secure their communities, a U.S. commander in Iraq said today. The increase in troops allows the coalition to move into areas that previously had no coalition or Iraqi security force presence and get rid of extremist elements, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Multinational Division Center, told reporters at the Pentagon via videoconference. As soon as locals see that the security forces are committed to staying and securing a neighborhood, they readily step forward to help, Lynch said.
"Over the last four months, we've seen an interesting shift," he said. "Iraqi citizens are coming to us and providing information. These citizens are speaking up about what they've seen; they're talking about what they've heard and about any activity that jeopardizes the rebuilding of their country."
Lynch also talked about the "concerned citizens" program, which involves about 10,000 Iraqis assisting security forces by manning checkpoints and providing intelligence information. The dedication of these citizens allows local governments to work on reconciliation, which will give the central government in Baghdad a strong foundation to work from for national reconciliation, he said.
"With our help, the Iraqis are starting to realize that they can establish order and accountability in their lives," Lynch said.
Lynch's forces took responsibility for the Multinational Division Center area, which includes the southern edge of Baghdad and stretches from the border of Saudi Arabia to the border of Iran, in April. Since then, attacks in the area are down by 26 percent and civilian casualties have decreased by 36 percent, Lynch said. Since June 15, coalition forces in the area have killed or captured 16 high-value individuals and in the past four months have captured or killed about 1,000 insurgents, he added.
"We're buying time and space for the Iraqi people to come together and determine their future," Lynch said of his unit's efforts. "It's reconciliation from the ground up, by helping the Iraqis see that they have something worth fighting for and protecting. Some days are better than others, but we continue to make progress."
Despite progress in his area, Lynch voiced concern about Iranian influence he sees in insurgent groups. U.S. soldiers are coming under attack from weapons originating from Iran, specifically rockets and components of explosively formed projectiles, a deadly type of roadside bomb, he said. Also, he said, U.S. officials believe some Shiia militants are being trained by Iranian elements and passing that training on to others inside Iraq. In addition, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are facilitating training and transfer of weapons and munitions in Iraq, he said.
Sunni militants also are getting Iranian technology, though it's not clear if that's through the black market or other means, Lynch said. Coalition forces are looking closely at weapons they recover, studying such things as tool marks and the source of explosives to determine their origin, he said. Forces in Multinational Division Center have captured more than 117 Iranian-made munitions since April, he said.
The coalition is working with Iraqi security forces to bolster security at the Iranian border and prevent these Iranian-made weapons from reaching Iraq, Lynch said. In the near future, 2,000 Republic of Georgia soldiers will help secure six checkpoints along the border, thoroughly inspecting every truck crossing along the main westbound routes toward Baghdad, he said.
The enemies of Iraq have suffered many losses in the past few months, but they will not go away anytime soon, Lynch said. Coalition forces fully expect them to launch more spectacular attacks and will continue pursuing them to prevent that from happening, he said. As Iraqi citizens show more courage and determination to stop violence, the coalition will have a better chance of success, he said.
"They're showing a will to continue to make ... a safe future a reality," he said of the Iraqis. "If we have faith in them, they'll have faith in us and their future."