By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
March 12, 2008 - Coalition and Iraqi military efforts directed against al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgents over the past few months have achieved much success toward making the country a more stable and secure place for its people, a senior U.S. military officer in Iraq said today. However, recent terrorist attacks against U.S. and Iraqi security forces highlight the fact that more work needs to be done, Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference.
"Even though violence is dramatically reduced from 2006 and 2007, this has unquestionably been a tough few days and reflects what we repeatedly have said: that al Qaeda in Iraq is a resilient and barbaric enemy," Bergner said.
The recent spate of al Qaeda-committed attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country "may be an effort to divert attention" from successes gained against al Qaeda in Mosul and other parts of northern Iraq, Bergner said.
"But, regardless, we have consistently said this is a tough fight, and although al Qaeda in Iraq has been damaged, it remains lethal," he said.
Meanwhile, more and more Iraqi troops, police and local concerned citizens groups are contributing in the fight against the insurgents, Bergner said. "This fight continues every day as coalition forces train Iraqi forces to patrol with them and conduct combined operations with them," the two-star general said.
Bergner cited an operation yesterday in Diyala province, where Iraqi soldiers acting on a local citizen's tip seized a large cache of weapons and munitions. That cache contained hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, blasting caps, AK-47 rifles and numerous small-arms ammunition.
In another operation yesterday, Iraqi police on patrol northeast of Samarra seized 80 mortar rounds, seven mortar tubes, a dozen rockets, 100 boosters, and five improvised explosive devices, Bergner said. "All of these munitions were safely disposed of before they could be used in attacks," he said.
In addition, Iraqi, coalition and Georgian army troops acted in concert during a March 7-8 cordon-and-search operation south of Baghdad, Bergner said. This operation cleared villages of insurgent hideouts, secured a local water-pumping station, and uncovered enemy weapons caches.
On March 7, Iraqi civilians residing southwest of Mosul turned in a weapons cache containing 90 mm mortars to Iraqi police and coalition forces, Bergner said.
"Every day, Iraqis reject violence, and every day, Iraqi and coalition forces cooperate to help these people," the general said.
As Iraqi and coalition security forces continue to make military gains against al Qaeda and other insurgents, advances are being made on the economic and political fronts, as well, Bergner said.
For example, he said, contracts have been written up to build a new multimillion-dollar dairy plant in Abu Ghraib, near Baghdad. The dairy plant will take about 10 months to construct, he said, noting it'll provide employment for 150 Iraqis.
Bergner was accompanied at the news conference by Michael Yost, a senior U.S. Department of Agriculture official in Iraq to evaluate the country's agricultural potential. Yost also had just attended Iraq's first agricultural ministry conference, featuring 300 Iraqi representatives and about 30 international advisors, Bergner noted.
Iraq's long growing season and other favorable factors provide the potential for it to produce high-value crops, Yost told reporters at the news conference. "We need to finance (Iraqi) farmers," Yost said. "This sector of the Iraqi economy has been in a state of neglect and mismanagement for a number of years."
In addition, Iraq's irrigation system must be revitalized, and projects need to be initiated to desalinize Iraqi farmland, Yost said.
The main goal is to put Iraqi farmers on the path so they can become the breadbasket for their fellow citizens, he said. "That's what we came over here to do, and I think we have started the process," Yost said.