By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 3, 2008 - A combination of factors is responsible for the improved conditions in Iraq, the commander of coalition forces in the northern part of the country said today. Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, commander of Multinational Division North, appeared on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."
Hertling said the coalition's troop surge, Iraq's security forces, national and provincial officials and the population's rejection of violent extremism all have contributed to a sharp decline in violence and economic progress.
The surge did much to improve security in Baghdad and other regions, he said, and "Sons of Iraq" citizen groups have assisted coalition and Iraqi forces in the security effort. At the same time, he said, Iraq's Army and police forces have continued to mature.
"There is an increasing capability of the Iraqi security forces," the general said. "They have grown tremendously, even in the 11 months we've been here. The capability of the Iraqi security force has certainly contributed -- both the Army and the police. The Sons of Iraq are part of the security elements in the northern provinces, and they have helped in some areas like Hawijah, Samarra, and some other places like that."
In addition, Hertling said, the Iraqi government and the country's provincial governments "are starting to get their act together and providing jobs for people."
"So there are good things going on across the board," he said. "And you also have to understand that the people of Iraq are just tired of the fighting, and it doesn't matter if you're Sunni, Kurd, Shiia, Christian or Syrians -- you're just sick of this unbelievably bad organization called al-Qaida, which continues to do dastardly things throughout the northern areas and through the rest of the Iraq. So the people have stood up to these organizations, as well."
Though U.S. taxpayers have been footing the bill for the Sons of Iraq citizen security groups, Hertling said, officials have begun to find Iraqi employment for them.
"We're starting to transition those elements into other organizations [such as a] civil service corps to help rebuild roads, pipelines, projects, things like that," he said, likening the effort to the Civilian Conservation Corps in the United States before World War II.
"But we're also seeing microgrants and microloans take charge, and people actually getting normal work," Hertling said. "The government is starting to work a little bit more."
As progress continues, more fighting remains to be done, the general acknowledged. Enemy fighters driven out of Baghdad and Iraq's Anbar province by the troop surge have sought refuge in the north.
"This fight we're having right now is not over yet," he said. "There's still a lot of al-Qaida in our area. They have all come to the northern provinces from Baghdad and the west, and we continue to have to drive them and pursue them so that they quit fighting, give up or we kill or capture them."