By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 6, 2008 - For the eleventh straight week, violence in Iraq continues at the lowest levels in four years, despite ongoing threats from al-Qaida in Iraq and Iranian-backed militants, a coalition general said today. Army Brig. Gen. David Perkins, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, attributed the nearly three-month lull in attacks to the Iraqi and coalition forces working toward establishing security, enforcing the rule of law and rebuilding Iraq.
"We have entered a phase where the progress in security is building upon itself and is allowing for Iraqi government institutions, economic development, and civil society to mature at a quicker pace," he said during a news conference in Baghdad.
Few security incidents have occurred in recent weeks in Basra, an oil-rich port city in southern Iraq with the country's second-largest population. The success of Iraqi forces there has allowed for new public works projects to proceed, along with repairs to the electrical grid, Perkins said.
In the far-reaching Anbar province, which stretches westward from Baghdad, the security situation is stable, as troops continue to uncover illegal weapons caches and capture al-Qaida Iraq operatives in the province's more rural parts.
The general also highlighted an operation north of Baghdad, where coalition and Iraqi forces caught two influential operatives of al-Qaida in Iraq. The men had been involved in recruiting Iraqi boys and manipulating them to conduct suicide bombing attacks, including one that killed more than 15 local sheiks and three U.S. Marines in June.
"Operating side by side and coordinating intelligence, Iraqi and coalition forces are increasingly denying terrorists the ability to operate or hide in Iraq," Perkins said.
But the general tempered his positive assessment, saying that members of al-Qaida in Iraq, as well as Iranian-backed "special groups" and other criminal elements, still are capable of launching attacks against the combined force.
"Our optimism is real, but cautious," he said.
As coalition forces disrupt terrorist networks in northern Iraqi areas, al-Qaida in Iraq operatives continue to try to incite ethno-sectarian violence, especially targeting Iraqis who dismiss the terrorists' "violent ideologies," Perkins said.
In Mosul and the Ninevah province, for instance, a "decreasing number of small groups" of al-Qaida in Iraq members still are conducting violent attacks primarily aimed at Iraqi security forces and their recruiting drives, he said.
Iranian-backed operatives continue leveling attacks in Amarah, though the number of such incidents is decreasing as Iraqi security forces more frequently interdict the militants' money and weapons supply lines.
Perkins credited the improving capability of Iraqi security forces with strengthening the partnership of Iraqi and coalition forces.
"Our partnership is strong, and we remain committed to helping Iraqis rebuild their nation," he said. "While the security situation is steadily improving, we continue to pursue those who oppose a united and flourishing Iraq so we can continue to build on our gains and not surrender them."