By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 1, 2008 - Attacks have dropped in Baghdad to levels seen in 2005, a senior commander in Iraq said today. Coalition forces also are finding and clearing more bombs than they have in the past four years, Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff of Multinational Corps Iraq, told reporters in the Pentagon via satellite from Camp Liberty, in Baghdad.
This comes on the heels of the new year's offensive, Operation Phantom Phoenix, aimed at driving al Qaeda and other extremists from safe havens in outlying provinces.
In the past week of operations, the overall number of attacks nationwide remained down and below the average of the past three months, Anderson said.
"The security situation today is about the same as we experienced statistically in early 2005," the commander said.
Weekly attacks in the Baghdad security districts for the past 15 weeks matched levels last seen consistently in 2005. Bombings increased last week, but remained below the long-term average for the 23rd week in a row, he said. Throughout Iraq, weekly casualties decreased by three percent last week, continuing to remain below the long-term average for the 21st week in a row, Anderson said. Civilian casualties have dropped from 1,700 in January 2007 to 170 this month.
Part of the success is due to locals being more willing to turn over extremists' hideouts and weapons caches, Anderson said. As local citizens feel more secure, they are coming forward with information on extremists' activities in their villages and provinces.
"The extremists' ability to intimidate the populous is clearly diminishing. Iraqi citizens across the country are actively engaging the extremists," Anderson said.
Concerned local citizens organized into neighborhood watch-type groups now number about 80,000 across the country and are helping fill critical security roles where they live, especially in areas where there are few Iraqi security forces.
"We will not allow al Qaeda and other extremists to take sanctuary in any part of the country," Anderson said. "We are not leaving safe areas or holes. We will not give up gains already achieved by the coalition."