By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 20, 2007 - Attacks in Iraq are at their lowest level since before the February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a top U.S. commander in Iraq said today. In addition to a decrease in attacks, the number of civilian casualties is decreasing, car bomb and suicide attacks are at their lowest levels in a year, and Iraqi and coalition forces have found more weapons caches in the first nine months of 2007 than they did in all of 2006, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad.
"Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to keep the pressure on extremists, and I believe we will be able to continue to improve security in Baghdad and across Iraq," he said.
Iraqi security forces continue to improve daily, Odierno said, and are taking more responsibility from coalition forces when possible. He stressed that the transfer of responsibility to Iraqi forces is a deliberate process and is not done lightly.
"We go through this very carefully to ensure that we're able to maintain the security for the Iraqi people," Odierno said. "We will not give back any of the hard-fought gains because we tried to rush this process."
As security gains are made, life is returning to normal for citizens around Iraq, the general said. Commerce is flourishing; more schools are opening; and people are returning to the streets, he said. This year, more than $589 million has been spent on reconstruction, $414 million on humanitarian assistance, and almost $200 million on improving the Iraqi security forces.
"We continue to work hard to move forward economically and improve the essential services, working with the government of Iraq," Odierno said. "This is what the Iraqi people deserve and expect."
He noted that security gains by coalition and Iraqi forces, in combination with reconciliation at the local level, have kept al Qaeda off balance and driven them from much of Baghdad. As insurgents flee, the coalition will keep pressure on them and pursue them, he said.
Iraqi Lt. Gen. Qanbar Abud, commander of Baghdad Operations Command, who also spoke at the news conference, agreed that al Qaeda is now on the run and life is returning to normal for the Iraqi people. Iraqi forces are gaining experience every day and are persistent in their fight against terror, he said.
Odierno closed by emphasizing that the coalition understands the hardships the Iraqi people have endured and admires their courage. "We join you in wanting the violence and unnecessary loss of life to stop here in Iraq, and that's our common goal," he said.