By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 30, 2008 - The operation now under way to clear enemies from Iraq's Diyala province is Iraqi-conceived, Iraqi-planned and Iraqi-led, a senior coalition officer said today. U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Perkins, Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, along with Iraqi Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, spoke with reporters at a Baghdad news conference.
Perkins said coalition forces will provide capabilities such as air support, helicopter support, some logistical support and engineer support for the operation in Diyala.
"[These are] those things that complete the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces and enable them to accomplish their mission," Perkins said.
Askari said the Iraqi Army and police are attacking terrorists, outlaws and Iranian-backed "special groups" to deny them safe haven in the province, which runs from the outskirts of Baghdad to the Iranian border. "The operation has no timetable," he said through a translator.
The operation, which began yesterday, has deployed Iraqi soldiers and police to the province's cities and villages. The Iraqi security forces already have captured 50 wanted terrorists and criminals, Askari said, noting that the operation has begun "lifting the 'fear barrier' between the Iraqi security forces and the people."
Another objective of the operation is to starve the terrorist and criminal groups and separate them from the population. Iraqi officials also want to build security so that displaced people – refugees from the fighting – want to relocate back to the province. Finally, the operation is designed to make it safe enough for the Iraqi government to begin investment in the province to spur reconstruction and agriculture, the Iraqi general said.
Perkins said the partnership between Iraqi and coalition soldiers continues to grow stronger and continues to contribute to the decline in violence throughout Iraq. Still, he gave most of the credit for the turnaround in the country to the Iraqi people.
"The Iraqi people came together in their neighborhoods and took a stand against terrorists, criminals and special groups," he said. "The Iraqi people rejected those bent on creating anarchy and division amongst them, and they became a key factor in the decrease in violence among them in the past year."
Problems remain in the country, as a series of suicide bombings in Baghdad and Kirkuk yesterday reminded all, Perkins said. But he added that coalition and Iraqi officials are encouraged, because even with the tragic attacks, enemy operatives could not fulfill their goals. The high-profile attacks did not start the cycle of sectarian violence that terror groups hoped such barbarity would unleash.
"The enemy is still capable of using high-profile attacks as it attempts to incite sectarian violence, disrupt Iraq's democratic processes and pit Iraqis against Iraqis," he said. "Just as Iraqis rejected the terrorists and their violent ideologies, Iraqis now are also refusing to be divided and pitted against each other.
"The Iraqi people have shown their commitment to securing their cities and neighborhoods," he continued, "and they are not giving up the security gains that saw ethno-sectarian attacks fall by 98 percent in the past 12 months."