By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 7, 2007 - Iraqi security forces in Ninewah province are in the lead and taking the fight to the enemy, the U.S. Army commander in the area said from his headquarters near Mosul, Iraq, today. Army Col. Stephen Twitty, commander of 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, said the 2nd and 3rd Iraqi army divisions are in the lead and taking the fight to terrorists in the province.
There are roughly seven to nine attacks per day in the province, which contains Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city.
The people of the province are showing they support freedom from al Qaeda and other terrorist groups by cooperating with coalition and Iraqi forces, Twitty said. Iraqi soldiers have foiled a number of terrorist attacks in the province. They also have found and killed a number of high-profile terrorists, and they have freed hostages that al Qaeda has taken.
People are showing they support the Iraqi government by refusing to engage in sectarian fighting following a horrific attack in the province last month, Twitty said. On Aug. 14, al Qaeda exploded four car bombs in the Yazidi villages of Khahtaniya and Jazeera, in western Ninewah. Yazidi is a minority religion in Iraq, and adherents live mainly in the Mosul area.
"To date, 344 Iraqis have been confirmed killed and more than 700 wounded as a result of that attack," Twitty said. "I believe the intent of this attack by al Qaeda was to cause sectarian violence between the Yazidis and Kurds against the Sunni Arabs in the province. That plan did not work; the attack united the Iraqis, driving them to support one another."
The Iraqi government handled the relief effort to the stricken villages. Iraqi soldiers and provincial police delivered relief supplies, and Iraqi relief agencies provided shelter and helped relocate refugees.
And progress continues. "Most recently on (Sept. 4), the 2nd Iraqi Army Division captured a suspected key al Qaeda financier, who was found with multiple checks totaling nearly 8 million Iraqi dinar, which amounts to nearly $600,000 U.S," Twitty said. "During questioning, he admitted to financing al Qaeda kidnapping operations here in Mosul."
These examples point to the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces in the province, Twitty said. Army units continue to receive training from coalition military training teams, and Iraqi government forces are expanding their reach into other areas of the province. "By keeping the pressure on the terrorists that operate in Nineveh province, we will deny them a safe haven to plan and execute operations against the citizens here," he said.
Coalition and Iraqi forces are expanding operations to deny terrorists freedom of movement in Nineveh and the Zaab triangle of Salah Ad Din province. "Approximately 14,000 coalition and Iraqi security forces are striking targets in Mosul, west and south Nineveh, and in the Zaab," Twitty said. "The Zaab triangle is the main effort for our operations."
The area has seen little coalition presence, and as forces destroy safe havens they will set conditions for a permanent presence. Forces will establish Iraqi police stations and checkpoints to cut off terrorists' freedom of movement. "The end state is to have a permanent presence in the Zaab that is able to provide for the security of its people," Twitty said. "Ongoing operations have proven to be very successful. So far, we have killed 25 and detained over 50 terrorists, found multiple caches, to include a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device factory here in Mosul."
Problems remain to be solved, Twitty said, for example logistics remains a problem for Iraqi forces. The two Iraqi divisions have received their support battalions. "What we're not seeing is the repair parts to fix the vehicles," he said. "We're assisting with that effort. We are getting some in, but it's not at the level to sustain the force, particularly a force that is fighting every day here in Mosul."
Fuel is an ironic problem for Iraq considering the country's oil reserves. Iraqi forces get rationed fuel on a monthly basis. But the pressure of combat is such that units run out of fuel around the 20th of each month. "I pretty much pad them fuel to continue operations through the remainder of the month," Twitty said.
Iraqi forces lack engineer and aviation capabilities. While this has increased, these shortcomings stand in the way of independent operations.
Ninewah is tentatively scheduled to go under local-government control in October, the colonel said. "We think we're headed in the right direction," he said. "The attacks here in the province have been lowered. We've reduced the number of coalition force battalions here in the province. The government is established and taking care of its people. There are projects that are ongoing by the government. The Iraqi security forces are doing the things that they need to do.
"Yes, there are still problems in the Iraqi security forces, but both the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police are fighting every day, so I see no reason why this province cannot move forward and go to provincial Iraqi control."