By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 7, 2007 - A combination of unceasing pressure by U.S. and Iraqi security forces and citizens' anger at al Qaeda in Iraq's brutal tactics have put the terror group "on the run," a senior U.S. military officer said today. "The surge in operations centered in Baghdad and the surrounding belts and up in the Diyala River Valley have driven much of al Qaeda into the rural areas and has caused them to flee northward," Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference.
The recently launched Operation Iron Hammer is designed to prevent fleeing al Qaeda operatives from re-establishing safe havens and networks, Smith said. Three U.S. brigade combat teams and three Iraqi army divisions are participating in the large-scale offensive, which stretches across four provinces in northern Iraq, he said.
Previous operations resulted in the capture of 35 al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents in October, Smith reported, noting six of those detainees are senior terrorist leaders.
"The targeting of (al Qaeda in Iraq) leadership and their networks has contributed to the downward trend in violence we are seeing across Iraq," the admiral said.
Iraqi security forces are gaining in numbers and effectiveness and are increasingly taking the lead during anti-insurgent operations, Smith said. Iraqi commandos recently captured an entire group of terrorists during a raid west of Ramadi, he said. "The precision operation captured all four primary targets in this cell and four other suspects," Smith reported.
More than 67,000 concerned Iraqi citizen-volunteers also are contributing in the fight against the terrorists, Smith said. In October, he said, troops from Multinational Division North found and cleared 72 weapons caches, 40 of which were discovered by concerned local citizens.
Ordnance confiscated in these caches "are no longer in the hands of al Qaeda and will not kill innocent civilians or be used to attack security forces," Smith said.
Iraqi citizens are fed up with al Qaeda-committed murders, beatings, kidnappings and other outrages, the admiral said. "The combination of al Qaeda's barbaric behavior of torture, execution and car bombings, as well as their extreme Taliban-like doctrine, has persuaded Iraqi citizens to join the fight and defeat these terrorists," he said.
As the security situation improves, coalition forces continue to assist Iraqi reconstruction efforts, Smith said. Coalition forces invested more than $2.6 million in grants to Iraqi businesses so far this year, he said.
However, al Qaeda in Iraq will continue attempts to commit high-profile attacks against Iraqi citizens and coalition and Iraqi forces, Smith cautioned. The terror group, he added, is attempting to replace its lost leadership.
Meanwhile, U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces are keeping up the pressure on al Qaeda and their networks in Iraq, Smith said, noting there's still a lot of work to do.
Al Qaeda in Iraq now realizes that it does not have freedom of movement in Iraq, Smith said. The terror group also "knows that the Iraqi people do not trust them," he added.
As a result, al Qaeda operatives in Iraq are "on the run," Smith observed. The insurgents realize they have dwindling maneuvering room, he said, and "the Iraqi people are just not going to put up" with them.