By Sgt. Sara Moore, USA
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 17, 2007 - In partnership with Iraqi forces and concerned local citizens, coalition forces in Baghdad have made significant progress against al Qaeda and have helped foster reconciliation, the commander of U.S. forces in the Iraqi capital said today. "We came with a purpose: to improve the security situation here in the Iraqi capital and to set the stage for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people to take charge of their future," Army Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil, commander of Multinational Division Baghdad and 1st Armored Division, told reporters at the Pentagon via satellite as his unit prepares to hand over responsibility to another incoming U.S. Army unit. "We've had some tough fights battling al Qaeda operatives and criminal militia. But here in the Multinational Division Baghdad and across Iraq, the coalition pounded away at the enemy and at their networks, and we've seen positive results from that persistent pressure."
Fil's division arrived in Baghdad in fall 2006. Since then, the surge of forces associated with the Baghdad security plan has allowed the coalition to weed out terrorists and extremists in the city, violence has decreased significantly, and the Iraqi security forces have drastically improved, Fil said. He also lauded efforts of concerned local citizens, who have stepped forward in droves to assist Iraqi security forces and rid their communities of violence.
Many of these citizens already have joined the Iraqi police force, and 2,000 more have been approved by the Interior Minister to attend school and become police officers, Fil said. Of the 25,000 concerned local citizens in Baghdad, 10,000 are interested in joining the Iraqi police, a number of them want to join the Iraqi army, and a lot of them want to gain other employment, such as in public-works organizations, he said.
The efforts of these citizens, in concert with Iraqi and coalition operations, have ensured that al Qaeda and criminal militias have no quarter in Baghdad, Fil said.
"They are not controlling any part of Baghdad," he said of extremists. "There's no place where al Qaeda is able to walk free, no neighborhood, not even any street at this point."
Despite this progress, al Qaeda is still a threat in the city, where the group's fighters lurk in the shadows to plan attacks, Fil said. He acknowledged that progress is fragile and that the coalition must continue to help the Iraqis improve their own capacity to handle the security situation.
Already, reconstruction is progressing throughout the city, Fil said. Contractors and local Iraqis are working together to repair sewage lines and implement trash removal plans, electricity and water programs, he said. Representatives from government ministries also are getting out into the population to assess for themselves what needs to be done and are working with local leaders to institute long-term change. He also noted that commerce has returned to many of the marketplaces and that Iraqis now can shop without fear.
Fil's unit already has begun to redeploy to Texas and, within the week, will hand over responsibility for Baghdad to 4th Infantry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
"We depart with a sense of accomplishment, but also with the haunting sense that our work here is not yet complete, that momentum is not yet irreversible and there is still much to be done," Fil said, adding that he is confident the 4th Infantry Division successfully will continue efforts against insurgents and violence.