By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 2, 2007 - Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr's recent call for a halt to all militia violence in Iraq is a "welcome development," a Multinational Force Iraq official said during a briefing in Baghdad today. "The Multinational Force Iraq joins the government of Iraq in welcoming Sadr's publicly articulated commitment to peace," said Navy Rear Adm. Mark I. Fox, communications division chief for Multinational Force Iraq. "If implemented, Sadr's order holds the prospect of allowing Iraqi security and coalition forces to intensify their focus on al Qaeda in Iraq and protecting the Iraqi population."
A disruption in violence also would allow the Iraqi government a greater focus on rebuilding its damaged infrastructure and improving its basic services, Fox said.
Sadr recently called for all members of his Jaysh al-Mahdi, commonly known as the Mahdi army, to cease all attacks for six months, following last week's bloody attacks in the holy city of Karbala. More than 50 people were killed in the clashes involving the Badr Brigade, affiliated with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, and the Mahdi army.
Fox said military officials are calling on all parties involved to support this new initiative, saying the declaration holds the potential to reduce criminal activity and help reunite Iraqis separated by ethno-sectarian violence and fear.
"We look forward to confirming the reduction of the violence that will result if those involved fulfill their commitment to following Sadr's instructions," he said.
Another positive element in efforts to secure and rebuild Iraq is the country's developing air force, Fox said.
"On August 30th, the Taji wing of the Iraqi air force flew its first totally autonomous mission," he said. The mission, which marked a historical milestone for the service, was to survey and monitor the country's power lines.
"Last year they flew a total of 300 hours, mostly in the Bell Jet Ranger helicopter," Fox added. "In August alone ... they flew 200 hours in the Huey II (helicopter) and to date, the Iraqi air force has flown more than 700 hours in their Hueys."
That's just since the beginning of March, he said. There are other continuing indicators the Iraqi people are beginning to trust the Iraqi government and the coalition, Fox said.
On Aug. 25, three Iraqi citizens escaped from their al Qaeda captors and reported their observations of torture and murder to coalition forces. The tip lead to the deaths of the three al Qaeda captors and the discovery of eight other prisoners who had been tortured and killed in a makeshift prison.
Another Iraqi citizen's tip on Aug. 27 led to the discovery of a large weapons cache of more than 400 five-gallon plastic jugs of nitric acid buried near a town about 10 miles west of Baghdad International Airport.
"The citizen who reported the cache helped soldiers dig up the jugs, which is another good example of the Iraq people taking the lead against terrorist elements and taking back their neighborhoods," Fox said.
While the coalition is keeping pressure on al Qaeda elements in Iraq, its also chipping away at other extremist, militia and criminal groups, he said.
Fox noted the early July capture of a "significant leader in the special groups organizations" who was responsible for killing hundreds of Sunni Muslims and attempting to further inflame sectarian violence. "A feared leader of terrorists ... (he) is no longer a threat to innocent Iraqi citizens," he said.
"We own the initiative and are on the offensive and are conducting precision operations targeting all extremist networks and all that threaten the security and the path to peace and progress in Iraq," Fox said. "It's a tough fight, but we are committed to helping the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government of Iraq achieve a safe, stable and secure nation."
Recent offensives like Operation Fardh al Qanoon, meaning Law Enforcement, have played their part in helping secure and rebuild Baghdad, said Dr. Tasheen Sheikhly, a civilian Iraqi spokesman who also took part in the briefing.
"Everybody knows that Operation Fardh al Qanoon achieved a lot at the military level, and this is what we expected from this plan," Sheikhly said. "It was to remove the civil war from Baghdad, also to enhance the trust and confidence between the government and the Iraqi people. These two things have been accomplished in a good way."
Those two accomplishments have led to progress in the restoration of basic services as well, Sheikhly said, citing an announcement establishing 25 power stations in the city. The oil ministry and the provisional council also has hammered out a plan to keep Baghdad residents warm this winter.
The government, Sheikhly added, also is celebrating other rebuilding accomplishments including the repaving of some streets and the reconstruction of several bridges in and around the city.
"All these projects, actually they're simple projects, but they indicate that there's a good, tangible progress in providing services," he said. "All these projects are just part of the services accompanying Fardh al Qanoon, alongside the military operations."