By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 26, 2007 - Having been ejected from Baghdad and its environs during the surge of forces, al Qaeda in Iraq is attempting to re-establish itself in regions north of the capital city, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said today. Yet, while al Qaeda scrambles to reorganize itself, the terrorist group is being pressured by a triple threat consisting of coalition and Iraqi security forces and local concerned citizens' groups, Army Maj. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference.
Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, commander of Multinational Division North, believes that some al Qaeda operatives who fled Baghdad are moving into his area of responsibility, Bergner said.
"We have to continue to pursue this enemy to prevent them from re-establishing themselves or creating new bases of operation," Bergner said.
Meanwhile, the 70,000 members of Iraqi concerned citizens' groups that have sworn to fight al Qaeda have proven to be powerful allies, Bergner said, as the capabilities and numbers of Iraqi soldiers and police continue to grow.
"The emergence of concerned local citizens has been driven by and focused on providing security at the local level in places where other forces were not capable of doing it," Bergner explained. "At the same time that that's happening, the capability of other forces to provide security, particularly Iraqi security forces, is growing."
Iraqi security capabilities will be further augmented when some members of the concerned citizens groups join Iraqi army or police units, Bergner said.
Through this process, Iraqi soldiers and police will be able to assume more and more responsibility for security in their country, Bergner said.
Much progress also has been achieved on the Iraqi governmental front, said Phillip T. Reeker, Baghdad counselor for public affairs, who accompanied Bergner at the news conference.
Yet, "a lot more needs to be done" in the political realm, Reeker said, noting Iraq's leaders "need to take advantage of the space created through the surge" to achieve more national political progress.
Meanwhile, Multinational Division North and its Iraqi partners continue efforts "to pursue al Qaeda, to prevent them from establishing safe havens and operating bases," Bergner reported.
More tough fighting lies ahead against terrorists in Iraq, Bergner predicted, noting yesterday's bombing north of Baghdad demonstrates the terrorists' desire to stage spectacular, brutal attacks in efforts to derail the Iraqi government. The Beiji bombing killed more than 20 people, including some guards at a housing area for oil industry workers and a number of women and children, according to news reports.
"This attack is further evidence of the nature of al Qaeda, their use of indiscriminate violence and their corrupt ideology that targets those who are protecting Iraq," Bergner said. "We will work closely with Iraqi authorities to help them enforce the rule of law and bring the perpetrators to justice."