By Seaman William Selby, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 25, 2008 - As Iraqis continue to organize at the local level to help with security, they are creating pressure on Iraq's national leaders to build on momentum, a top military official said yesterday. Army Brig. Gen. Edward Cardon, deputy commander for support for Multinational Division Center and Task Force Marne, told online journalists and "bloggers" in a conference call that Iraqis seem to be more and more organized at the local level, with concerned local citizens working alongside Iraqi and coalition forces to make and keep their neighborhoods safe.
"I think that organization is starting to put a lot of pressure from the bottom up on the national government," he said.
Coalition and Iraqi security forces, along with local citizens, have made significant security improvements in the southern belts of Baghdad, Cardon said.
"I think the difference now is (that) before, we were reacting to al Qaeda, now they react to us," he said.
Cardon, who is in the 10th month of his 15-month tour, said that rather than frightening local citizens into inaction, attacks by al Qaeda insurgents are now having the opposite effect.
"When this happens, the resolve of the citizens actually goes up, and then we have more of an effort by these locals to join and purge their area of al Qaeda," he said.
With the local and national security forces making strides, the general said, coalition forces can take a step back and monitor them.
In recent attacks, the Iraqi army and police have been able to handle security situations on their own, he said, as coalition forces maintained liaison with them and watched very carefully.
"I think that the Iraqi government's finally starting to step up and provide some help," Cardon said. "They're much more deliberate in the way they search people, in the way they profile, and in the way they handle the traffic."
Now, the coalition can concentrate on integrating the concerned local citizens into the either the Iraqi security forces or other programs, the general said. Of the 40,500 concerned citizens now in that security program, 20 percent will end up in the Iraqi security forces, and the hope is for the rest to join educational, vocational and other programs they are creating on their own using micro-grants, Cardon told the journalists.
"I think that's very, very encouraging," he said.
(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)