By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 2, 2008 - Yesterday's suicide bombing at a Baghdad funeral highlights the need to keep up the pressure on al Qaeda in Iraq, a senior U.S. military officer said today. The al Qaeda attack "is further evidence of the nature of these extremists," Army Maj. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference. More than 30 Iraqis died in the blast, which injured nearly 35 others, according to news reports.
Bergner condemned the "barbaric" attack, noting it personifies al Qaeda's indiscriminate violence and the group's corrupt, extremist ideology that targets the innocent.
The Baghdad bombing, the general said, underscores the need to apply "continuous and persistent pressure" against al Qaeda and other terror groups that operate in Iraq.
Working toward that purpose, coalition and Iraqi security forces have killed or captured 51 al Qaeda in Iraq leaders, Bergner said. Ten of the most significant of these deceased or detained insurgent leaders were involved in weapons trafficking, murder, foreign-terrorist facilitation, hijacking, finances, bomb making and other activities, Bergner said.
Bergner also praised the tens of thousands of Iraqi citizen volunteers who have joined in the fight against al Qaeda.
"Together with the Iraqi security forces and this new group of leaders, we will continue to pursue those who terrorize the Iraqi people," Bergner said. "We know it will continue to be a tough fight and one that will test the courage and the strength of the Iraqi people, the Iraqi forces, and the coalition forces."
Bergner praised the Iraqi people and their military and police forces for "standing up" and rejecting extremists like al Qaeda.
In 2007, surge-reinforced coalition troops and Iraqi citizens' groups, soldiers and police pushed al Qaeda operatives out of Baghdad and Iraq's Anbar province, Bergner said.
"It has been a year of very tough fighting," Bergner observed, noting that offense-minded U.S. troops often paid a price when attacking dug-in enemy fighters.
Coalition forces in Iraq "have pursued the enemy in places which had become safe havens and operating bases," Bergner explained. Al Qaeda forces, he noted, often were ensconced in hard-to-attack defensive positions.
"So, the year that we have seen a significant amount of progress is also a year that has involved an enormous amount of sacrifice," Bergner said.
At the start of a new year, Bergner predicted more battles ahead for U.S. forces in Iraq.
"All of us start this year with the full understanding that this is still a tough fight. It will continue to be a tough fight," Bergner said.
U.S. forces in Iraq will face that challenge teamed with increasing numbers of capable Iraqi soldiers and police, as well as additional concerned-citizen groups that have sworn to fight al Qaeda, Bergner said.
In 2008, "we will see increasing commitment and involvement" against al Qaeda by the Iraqi military and police forces and the Iraqi people, the general predicted.