By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 26, 2007 - Iraq's citizens are weary of insurgent-generated violence and are now looking to homegrown security forces to provide long-term peace and stability, a senior U.S. military officer posted in the country's Diyala province said today. And although Iraqi soldiers have tended to demonstrate better capabilities than local constabulary forces, Iraqi police working within his sector are quickly catching up, Army Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, deputy commanding general for operations of Multinational Division North, told reporters during a conference call from his headquarters in Baqubah.
"We have seen steady increases in the police, not only from a readiness perspective, but (also) being able to stand and fight and, in cases, pursue, a pretty tough, demanding and adaptive adversary," said Bednarek, who oversees more than 20,000 U.S. and coalition troops. His Pennsylvania-sized battle space encompasses Ninewah, Diyala and some other provinces north of Baghdad.
Upon assuming his current assignment about 13 months ago, Bednarek recalled hearing stories that Iraqi police officers in his area would flee when coming under fire by al Qaeda or other insurgents.
"Not the case any more," the general said of the improved performance of Iraqi police officers. "You see them standing, you see them making a difference, and you see them fighting back. And, that is exactly what we want to have happen with the police."
Diyala province has about 13,000 police, he said, and work is ongoing to increase the province's police force to 21,000 police officers. Four Iraqi army divisions operate within his sector, he added.
Iraqis "are sick and tired" of violence from al Qaeda and other insurgents, Bednarek said, especially attacks on innocent citizens during the monthlong Ramadan religious observance. As a result, Iraqi citizens are asking to join police and military efforts to corral al Qaeda and other terrorists groups operating in the country, the general said.
Concerned Iraqis "are standing up and fighting back, themselves," he pointed out. "They're sick and tired of what's happening to them at the hands of al Qaeda."
Citizen-provided intelligence alerted Iraqi police officers to the attempted terrorist hijacking of two tour buses filled with passengers in Ninewah province Sept. 22, Bednarek said. The police officers then contacted the Iraqi military. A contingent of Iraqi soldiers thwarted the hijacking, killing one terrorist and wounding another in the process. No passengers were injured.
And Iraqi security forces, with U.S. Special Forces advisors, uncovered a massive enemy weapons cache, likely the largest found so far in the Iraq conflict, containing 20,000 pounds of powerful explosives, Bednarek said. The Sept. 19 action was conducted near Sinjar in Ninewah province.
The general also praised his troops as, "incredible young patriots that are in this fight, every day."
"All they ask of us as their leaders is for the support to allow them to execute the job that they do so well to the standard that the American people expect," Bednarek said.