By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 29, 2007 - Iraqi forces are stepping forward to shoulder the security burden in the country, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman said today. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner made the assertion in a conference call with military analysts.
In Karbala yesterday, hundreds of thousands of Shiia pilgrims celebrating the birth of Muhammad al-Mahdi, a ninth-century imam revered by the sect, were placed in danger from two militias vying for power. The Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization faced off, disrupting the celebrations. "Iraqi security forces responded rapidly to maintain control of the city," Bergner said.
Iraqi security forces did not call on reinforcements from the coalition to handle the outbreak of "green-on-green" violence. "It is a testament to the Iraqi training that they felt they did not need our assistance," a Pentagon spokesman speaking on background said.
Iraqi forces also are flexing their wings in other areas of the country, Bergner said. They are continuing to clamp down on al Qaeda in Iraq. Iraqi and coalition forces killed terrorist leader Abu Ibrahim in Tarmiyah. Ibrahim was known as the emir of the city and had murdered and intimidated the population, even killing a 9-year-old girl. The Iraqi people of the region gave Iraqi forces the tip that led them to Ibrahim, Bergner said.
Killing Ibrahim took a major piece out of the car-bomb network in Baghdad, he said.
Operation Phantom Strike, the Multinational Corps Iraq operation to capitalize on surge forces in Baghdad, continues. The operation has been successful in denying extremists use of places in the tri-border region of Diyala, Salah ad Din and Anbar provinces and south of Baghdad as safe havens or operating bases, Bergner said.
Coalition and Iraqi forces are operating in these regions, and the payoff is the trust of the Iraqi people. "Now that they are operating there, they have established a base of information and a network ... that's enabled by the people of the neighborhoods," he said.
This results in more actionable intelligence, he said. Combined forces are operating in places they seldom went in the past and, after 60 days of operations, they are gaining the trust of the people. "The Iraqi people have grown to have confidence in them and (are) providing helpful information," Bergner said.
"At the same time, those citizens are willing to organize themselves into groups to work with coalition and Iraqi forces," he said, adding that this builds momentum for coalition and Iraqi forces in these regions.
In Karkh, Iraqi and coalition forces dismantled another al Qaeda cell, one of the worst in the region for shipping suicide car bombers into Baghdad.
"You are seeing the sheikhs in these different areas starting to coalesce in not too dissimilar a way as you saw in Anbar," Bergner said. He quickly pointed out that there is no "one-size-fits-all approach" in Baghdad, but momentum is pointing toward cooperation.
In Mosul, 2nd Iraqi Division soldiers also are demonstrating their increased capabilities. "Just this past Sunday, they had four different contacts," Bergner said.
In the first, soldiers stopped two separate car-bomb attacks. In the second, an Iraqi army patrol stopped a motorcycle carrying a suicide bomber who died when he triggered his bomb prematurely. In the third incident, an Iraqi patrol disrupted an ambush and found two additional car bombs. Finally, Iraqi soldiers killed four gunmen in two vehicles.
"To hear the kind of operations they are conducting and the effects they are achieving is another indicator of the progress the (Multinational) Corps is achieving," he said.