By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 16, 2008 - Operation Phantom Phoenix, a series of division- and brigade-level strikes against al Qaeda and other extremists in Iraq, continues to disrupt terrorist safe havens and bases, a top military official said. The joint coalition-Iraqi forces operation, launched Jan. 8, also is achieving gains for Iraqi citizens, Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, told reporters today during a briefing at Camp Victory. in Baghdad.
"This is a tough fight on many levels, and it will continue to be so," he said. "But even as offensive operations pressure the extremist networks, there are steps being taken to improve services and support for the citizens of Iraq."
Describing military progress achieved in Phantom Phoenix's first week, Bergner said Multinational Division North and Iraqi forces responsible for the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul and Samarra detained 193 extremists, killed 60 others and found 79 weapons caches.
During a raid northeast of Fallujah on Jan. 14, the Iraqi army located a cache that contained more than 90 mortar rounds, blasting caps, and small-arms ammunition. "The capturing unit estimates that cache contained enough ordnance to construct over 20 (improvised explosive devices)," Bergner added.
Elsewhere in Iraq Jan. 14, Iraqi special operations forces in Mosul detained a terrorist cell leader. The cell was involved in storing and emplacing IEDs and car bombs for use in attacks throughout the city. The suspect allegedly is responsible for kidnapping and murdering innocent Iraqi civilians, the general said.
Bergner said coalition forces discovered a "complex cache site" and underground bunker system Jan. 12 in Tikrit. Troops also found several log books containing al Qaeda members' names and assigned weapons and a map of IED locations.
"The 70-meter complex included a building for constructing improvised explosive devices, as well as two underground bunkers," he said. "The site contained weapons and explosives, including small arms, components for 10 IEDs, and small-arms ammunition."
South of Baghdad early in the operation, coalition forces and Iraqi army soldiers on Jan. 10 nabbed more than 50 extremists, including one suspect who military officials believe is linked to the assassination of a tribal leader in November. During the joint operations, soldiers also discovered a bomb-making facility and destroyed two large-caliber mortar systems.
On Jan. 8, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, announced the beginning of Phantom Phoenix, describing it as a lethal and nonlethal operation to exploit recent security gains and disrupt terrorist support zones and enemy leadership.
"Working closely with the Iraqi security forces, we will continue to pursue al Qaeda and other extremists wherever they attempt to take sanctuary," Odierno said, according to a Jan. 8 Multinational Corps Iraq news release. "Iraqi citizens continue to reject extremist elements. We are determined not to allow these brutal elements to have respite anywhere in Iraq."
Odierno said the operation's nonlethal aspects are designed to improve delivery of essential services, economic development and local governance capacity.
Speaking about non-military successes today, Bergner praised Iraqi lawmakers for passing legislation on de-Baathification reform, a measure that will allow vetted members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to hold certain government or public-service jobs.
"We offer our sincere congratulations to the members of the Iraqi Council of Representatives who worked extremely hard to reach a series of political compromises that resulted in passage of the Accountability and Justice Law." Bergner said of the legislation. "This is an Iraqi law, formulated by Iraqi leaders, that addresses uniquely Iraqi issues."
In another non-military success during Phantom Phoenix, Bergner said, Iraqi health care providers gathered in Baghdad last week for a two-day medical conference, the first of its kind in more than 15 years. Organizing the conference were members of Iraq's Ministry of Health, the International Medical Society, Medical Alliance for Iraq and the Health Attache's Office of the U.S. Embassy. More than 200 Iraqi doctors attended the conference, including a number who had remained outside Iraq for many years.
"As the country's security continues to improve, Iraqi doctors who left here during the Saddam era are now considering coming back to Iraq and their government is working to facilitate their return," Bergner said.
"Some (positive steps), like this conference, will take time to develop and provide a tangible improvement in the lives of the Iraqi people," he added. "Nevertheless, those steps are being taken, albeit slowly and with many more yet to come."