By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 24, 2007 - A movement toward peace that began in mostly Sunni areas of Iraq now is moving into Shiite areas as well, a senior commander said in Baghdad today. "Bound together by the desire for peace and prosperity, the Iraqi people are overcoming differences to provide a better future for their children," said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Multinational Corps Iraq commander.
In a news briefing, Odierno and Iraqi army Lt. Gen. Abud Qanbar said they are upbeat about the security situation in the Iraqi capital. Both said the shift of Iraqis to supporting the coalition and government is continuing. The shift began in the Sunni–dominated Anbar province, but now is spreading to Baghdad, Odierno said.
"All sectors of Baghdad have witnessed a decrease in terrorist activities compared to the beginning of Operation Fardh al Qanoon," Qanbar, the commander of the Baghdad Operations Command, said. "This has brought life to normal in many parts of Baghdad."
Overall violence in Baghdad is down 80 percent over the same period in 2006, Qanbar said. Overall terrorist attacks are down 59 percent, and assassinations are down 72 percent. The Iraqi general said the holy month of Ramadan, which ended Oct. 12, was much different this year.
Odierno agreed. "Iraqis celebrated Eid al Fitr (the feast ending Ramadan) last week in their parks, restaurants and streets," he said. "During last year's Eid, this was not the case. The security improvements made this possible. Attack levels continue their downward trend that began in June and are now at their lowest level since January 2006."
The general said that improvised-explosive-device attacks, extremists' preferred method of terror, are down more than 60 percent in the past four months, and bombs that do go off are less lethal.
Iraqi citizens tell Odierno they see and feel a difference. "Whenever I travel around Baghdad, Iraqis tell me how much safer they feel in their neighborhoods," he said.
In the western Baghdad neighborhood of Jihad, both Sunni and Shiite residents have worked hard to reduce violence and last week signed a reconciliation agreement. "Yesterday, just five days after the signing of the agreement, a group of Iraq government officials visited Jihad to assess how to improve the services," Odierno said.
This is key to solidifying security gains, the general said. In Jihad, the town council and the ministries agreed to get the hospital working again, rebuild the sewage disposal plant, improve the delivery of oil, and rehabilitate schools and mosques.
"The coalition and Iraqi security forces are committed that the citizens of Jihad enjoy the benefits of their improved security situation," he said. "We will work closely with the government to ensure they can deliver supplies and to provide security. Alongside the government, the coalition is working to provide substantial financial support to help the citizens of Jihad."
The general named criminals and terrorists in Sadr City who are not interested in reconciliation. He called the men terrorists and criminals who "commit extortion, kidnappings, intimidation and murder against the Iraqi people." These gangs are on the coalition and Iraqi target list, he said.
"Local citizens across Iraq are taking back their communities; they are providing valuable information to the coalition and Iraqi security forces, seizing caches and even detaining extremists to defend their homes," Odierno said.
Iraqi security forces continue to improve and continue to increase their capabilities, Odierno said. "Together, the coalition and Iraqi security forces are working hard to protect the Iraq population and remove dangerous elements," he said.
The general also cited a sense of optimism in Baghdad. "I'm encouraged by the improvements in the Iraqi security forces, by the local community leaders signing reconciliation agreements, and by local volunteers providing security in their neighborhoods," he said. "This is creating space to lay an economic foundation and improve essential services."
The coalition and Iraqi government must continue their efforts and encourage the groundswell against terrorists and extremism, Odierno said.
"Working closely with the government, we need to ensure that improved services are brought to the Iraqi people," he said. "I believe we are well on our way to make lasting differences in Iraq. Coalition and Iraqi security forces remain committed to providing protection and moving forward. The future holds great promise, and the Iraqi people have reason to begin to hope."