By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 18, 2008 - From Mosul in the north to Basra in the south, insurgent-committed violence in Iraq continues to decrease as stability visibly increases, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said today. "For 10 of the last 11 weeks, we've sustained less than 200 attacks per week nationwide," Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference from his Baghdad headquarters.
Attacks in Iraq had once reached more than 1,500 a week a few years ago during the zenith of insurgent-committed violence.
"It is undeniable that Iraq is in a much better place than it was several months ago," said Austin, who also commands 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, N.C. He took command of Multinational Corps Iraq on Feb. 14.
Austin credited the fall in violence to "an increasingly effective Iraqi security force, one that is growing in capability and in confidence," Austin said. "And, as a result, we have seen signs of hope and prosperity return to many parts of the country that were once previously threatened by criminal and terrorists and others who don't want Iraq to achieve its full potential."
As violence in Iraq continues on a downward arc, Austin said, the U.S. military remains focused on protecting Iraqi citizens, building up and supporting the country's security forces and assisting with reconstruction.
"We're making progress in each of these areas every day," Austin said. "And, while these efforts are progressing at a different pace, they all are moving forward in a positive and tangible manner."
American military forces remain busy in Iraq, Austin said. The redeployment of the last surge brigade in July leaves about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. There were about 170,000 U.S. forces in Iraq during the height of the surge.
"Today, the Multinational Corps Iraq is operating in more areas of the country with fewer troops, and our security gains continue to trend in a positive direction, even after the redeployment of five brigade combat teams and, most recently, the Georgia brigade," Austin said.
About 1,800 soldiers from the former Soviet republic of Georgia recently redeployed home from Iraq in the wake of Russian-Georgian strife over the breakaway northern provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Meanwhile, Austin said, he is encouraged by the positive trends in Iraq, as U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to apply pressure on the insurgents.
"In the north, al-Qaida is in disarray, and its capability to conduct well-planned and -coordinated attacks is limited, but they still pose a real threat to the population," Austin said. "And, a couple of weeks ago, I walked through an open market in Mosul that was several kilometers long, and it was overflowing with Iraqis.
"Now, that's something that would not have been possible just a couple of months ago, and this is a clear sign that we are making progress indeed," the three-star general said.
However, Austin said he doesn't discount al-Qaida's continued ability to produce spectacular attacks and carnage through the use of suicide bombers.
"Suicide vests, which are a trademark of al-Qaida, account for less than 3 percent of the total number of all of attacks, but they account for 65 percent of all casualties," Austin pointed out. Most of the casualties produced by suicide-vest attacks, he noted, are innocent civilians.
"So, you can see that while al-Qaida is in disarray, they are still capable of ruthless attacks," Austin said.
Iraqi-led security operations in the north in Mosul and Diyala province are directed against al-Qaida remnants, Austin said, while Iraqi troops arrayed along the country's borders are interdicting al-Qaida-affiliated foreign fighters that are attempting to enter Iraq.
Life is steadily returning to normal in Baghdad, Austin said, as violence continues to decrease in the Iraqi capital city. Al-Qaida has been "largely pushed out" of Baghdad, he observed, noting the city is experiencing 83 percent fewer attacks than was seen this time last year.
Baghdad's formerly restive Sadr City section also is experiencing improved security and less violence, Austin said. The Iraqi government is now busily providing needed sewer, water, electrical, health and other services to Sadr City residents, he said.
Security has also improved in Basra and Amarah in southern Iraq, Austin said. Iraqi security forces have been successful in fighting and isolating the Iranian-trained "special groups" anti-government militia in those southern cities.
"As a result of the improved security in places like Basra and Amarah, we're seeing fewer numbers of lethal accelerants making their way into Baghdad," Austinsaid. "Today, these militias are largely disrupted and ineffective because of Iraqi operations and because the people have turned against them."
Austin said he believes the Iraqis will triumph over the insurgents and terrorists, because the Iraqi security forces are improving and because the people of Iraq have trust in their security forces.
The three-star U.S. general also said he is "absolutely impressed with the commitment and the professionalism of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines" serving in Iraq, as well as the contributions of America's coalition partners.
"Their hard work continues to have a positive impact on the lives of the Iraqis," Austin said of U.S. and coalition efforts in Iraq. "There's still much work to be done, but we're making steady progress every day."