By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 8, 2008 - Incidents of Iraqi-on-Iraqi attacks due to ethno-sectarian strife and other types of violence in Iraq have decreased markedly from a year ago, a senior U.S. officer posted in Iraq said yesterday. "Iraq is in a very different place than it was just 12 months ago," Multinational Force Iraq spokesman Army Brig. Gen. David G. Perkins told reporters at a Baghdad news conference. "Iraqis refuse to be pitted against each other by senseless violence."
For example, Perkins said, the number of security incidents so far during Ramadan is more than 60 percent lower than it was during the first week of the month-long Muslim observance last year.
Ethno-sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased from about 60 incidents weekly a year ago, to "negligible levels" today, Perkins said. The greatly reduced level of violence heralds "a new level of stability in Iraq," the general said.
Al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq still are capable of committing high-profile attacks on the Iraqi populace, Perkins noted, citing the Sept. 6 bombing in Tal Afar that killed six people and injured at least 50 others. However, Perkins said, Iraqi and coalition forces are pursuing the terrorists aggressively, and are limiting their abilities to operate. Security responsibility for 11 of Iraq's 18 provinces, he noted, is now under Iraqi control.
Meanwhile, the reduced violence is enabling Iraqi authorities to create new opportunities for citizens to rebuild their country and their lives, Perkins said.
"Thousands of Iraqis are returning to their country and homes with the help of the government," Perkins said, as thousands of reconstruction projects are being launched and completed.
Reconciliation is an important component of Iraq's societal and economic renaissance, Perkins said. The Iraqi government's recent decision to assume financial responsibility for the "Sons of Iraq" local citizen security program on Oct. 1, he said, will facilitate both reconciliation and economic efforts.
The Iraqi government and the coalition will work together, Perkins said, to accelerate the transition of Sons of Iraq and "Sunni Awakening" members into jobs within the Iraqi military and constabulary, as well as other employment. The Iraqi government and coalition forces "are committed to creating the opportunities for these Iraqi patriots to continue building the new Iraq," Perkins said.
Though not all Sons of Iraq members may qualify for employment in the country's military or police forces, all efforts will be made to ensure that they have viable employment, said Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, an Iraqi military spokesman who accompanied Perkins at the news conference. Sons of Iraq members who don't join the military or police, Atta said, will continue to receive paychecks until employment is found for them.
"We're going to continue to pay salaries to the rest of them, the ones that need to be trained and re-qualified and be assigned to other ministries or civilian jobs," Atta said.
Meanwhile, Atta said, Iraqi soldiers and police are working in tandem with coalition troops to eliminate al-Qaida terrorists and other insurgents.
"There are no safe havens for those al-Qaida [terrorists] or outlaws or criminal groups," Atta asserted.
The increased capabilities and numbers of Iraq's soldiers and police have contributed to the reduction of violence, Atta said.
"Our Iraqi security forces are working better; they're more capable, they're better trained" and are more numerous, the Iraqi general said.