By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 21, 2007 - The most encouraging recent development in Baghdad is the willingness of citizens to step forward and partner with Iraqi security forces in defeating terrorism, the U.S. commander in charge of coalition forces in the city said today. Almost 8,000 Iraqi security volunteers are currently employed around the city and are being trained and integrated into the Iraqi security forces, Army Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commander of Multinational Division Baghdad, told Pentagon reporters via satellite. All over Baghdad, these volunteers are being trained by Iraqi security forces and are partnering with them in operations, resulting in security gains, he said.
"I believe this shift with the population stepping forward has every potential to become the catalyst that brings truly enduring change for the better, certainly here in Baghdad and perhaps across the nation," Fil said. "And I really sense the momentum ... on both sides of the river in Baghdad and on the streets when we're working with the most senior Iraqi officials that I deal with."
Partnerships of local citizens with the Iraqi government and security forces are another step forward in efforts to reduce violence and protect the population of Baghdad, Fil said. Since Operation Fardh al-Qanoon, which stands for "enforcing the law," began in mid-February, overall attacks in Baghdad are down by more than 50 percent, he said. Small-arms attacks, car bombs, mortar and rocket attacks are all down by more than 50 percent. There also has been a steep decline in the number of improvised-explosive-device detonations, which he credited to the arrests of key cell members and an increased ability to find weapons caches.
Coalition and Iraqi forces have been making significant progress in securing Baghdad neighborhoods, Fil said. Before Operation Fardh al-Qanoon, about 70 percent of neighborhoods were in the "disruption" phase, which means they had not been cleared of insurgent activity, he said. Now, only 16 percent of neighborhoods are in disruption, and about 56 percent are in the "control" or "retain" phase, which means coalition and Iraqi forces have a sustained presence.
"We've had some tough days battling al Qaeda and criminal militia, but here in the Multinational Division Baghdad we keep pounding away at our enemy, pushing him daily, and we've seen positive results from our persistent pressure," Fil said.
The general acknowledged that while attack levels are down, the level of violence is still too high. In the first two weeks of September, extremist groups conducted mortar, rocket and explosively formed projectile attacks, rocket-propelled-grenade attacks against tanks, and surface-to-air missile launches. These attacks have continued despite Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's recent call for an end to violence, Fil noted. And while the coalition is showing restraint in dealing with those who uphold that pledge, they will not show the same restraint in dealing with criminal militias armed by Iranian elements, he said.
The conditions of essential services throughout Baghdad range from very good to very poor, Fil said. Brigade combat teams and provincial reconstruction teams continue to work with local government officials and the government of Iraq on a variety of projects, including water, sewer, electricity and trash collection, and monitor and assist with fuel distribution to prevent criminal militias from interfering with or attempting to profit from fuel sales, he said.
"There is much work ahead, but what I see here in Baghdad is steady progress," he said. "As the population senses a change in their security for the better and a change in local conditions, they are becoming more and more involved in both aspects in their communities. And that progress is a testament to our soldiers, to the Iraqi security forces, and to the government of Iraq and the citizens of Baghdad, and they've all taken courageous steps forward and committed to taking a stand here against terror and against those who intimidate and murder."