By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
June 2, 2008 - The U.S. two-star general responsible for operations in Baghdad today expressed optimism about the current state of anti-insurgent efforts in and around Iraq's capital city. Tactically, "the situation I see ourselves in here right now -- it's encouraging," Army Maj. Gen. Jeffery W. Hammond, commander of Multinational Division Baghdad and the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference from his Baghdad headquarters.
Multinational Division Baghdad is also known as Task Force Baghdad. Since December, the 4th Infantry from Fort Hood, Texas, has provided its headquarters element.
Hammond cited the "significant progress" made last month against Baghdad-area insurgents, thanks in large part, to the efforts of local Iraqi security forces. The general commands 30,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in his area of operations.
"The performance of the Iraqi forces was heartening and contributed enormously to this success," Hammond pointed out. "They are the ones extending security in the Sadr City [district], and they have found over 83 weapons caches" since May 20. Those caches yielded 175 homemade bombs, 76 roadside bombs specifically designed to pierce armored vehicles and numerous rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, he said, as well as more than 320 mortar rounds.
Sadr City sprawls across eastern Baghdad and is home to cleric Moqtada al Sadr's militia. Sadr's ongoing cease-fire agreement with coalition and Iraqi forces is credited with helping to reduce violence in Baghdad and is environs.
Hammond said his command's mission to protect Baghdad's citizenry remains unchanged.
"We accomplish this by defeating the enemies of Iraq, improving the Iraqi security forces' capability through partnership, developing the Iraqi police capacity, supporting political and economic growth [and] ultimately transitioning the Iraqi security forces in their responsibility for overall security," he explained.
Hammond cited two primary adversaries: al-Qaida terrorists and illegal armed organizations, such as Iranian-backed "special groups," that disrupt the peace and flaunt the rule of law.
The people of Baghdad are rejecting al-Qaida's murderous agenda, while U.S. and Iraqi security forces are keeping the terrorists on the run, Hammond noted.
"We have severely disrupted their networks and their operations," Hammond said of recent efforts that have resulted in the killing or detention of 430 al-Qaida in Iraq members during the past six months, including senior leaders, media experts, attack coordinators, facilitators and operators.
"We continue to pursue them relentlessly," Hammond said.
Illegal militias that operate in Baghdad also are being dealt with, Hammond noted. Some of them, which the military calls "special groups," are trained and supplied by Iran, he said.
"We've killed or detained 455 special groups operatives in the last six months," Hammond told reporters. "Now, intelligence reports indicate that these criminals receive support from elements in Iran."
Some confiscated weaponry, he noted, is of Iranian origin and recent manufacture.
"I can tell you some weapons recovered in Baghdad were identified as being produced in Iran," Hammond said. "The most recent data production [mark] was February 2008."
Additionally, "we also know many special groups criminal that we target have recently fled to Iran, as well," the general said.
Recent Iraqi-led ground operations with U.S. aerial support in southern Sadr City resulted in the destruction of 61 enemy mortar teams, and the killing of 163 special groups members, Hammond said.
That success "could not have been accomplished without the bravery, the patience and professionalism and concern for collateral damage that was demonstrated by our attack helicopter pilots," Hammond pointed out.
Better security is helping to establish conditions in Baghdad conducive to expanded commerce and employment.
"Now, improved security conditions allow us to improve in other important areas of employment, essential services and local governance," Hammond explained. "Increased employment in Baghdad is of particular importance to us." Current economic and employment projections, he added, indicate the potential to create 160,000 new jobs in Baghdad in the months ahead.
"Now, employment's increased by over 60,000 as a result of our combined efforts," Hammond reported. "We project a further increase by 20,000 more [jobs] here in short order."
Yet, Hammond cautioned that it's too early to declare victory, and there'll be "more challenges ahead" in Baghdad.
"What's most important is that you know we understand our mission, and our soldiers -- your soldiers, in partnership with Iraqi security forces and the citizens of Baghdad -- are making a difference," Hammond told Pentagon reporters.
"Our families support us back home, and we're supported by an Army and local communities that care," he continued. "We're a team. We're making progress."