By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
April 24, 2009 - While al-Qaida is succeeding in launching a few spectacular attacks in Iraq, it cannot succeed in stopping progress, the commander of Multinational Force Iraq said today. "Obviously, anything that kills a lot of innocent civilians is something we are very concerned about," Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said. "But I would tell you that the people of Iraq are resilient. They continue to reject al-Qaida. The people abhor the killing of innocent civilians, pilgrims who are here to pray."
Despite a few spectacular attacks, the number of attacks remains low, Multinational Forces Iraq officials said, though they do raise some concerns about the fragility of security in Iraq. Attacks yesterday hit people who were collecting food for needy families.
"They are going after very innocent civilians, and frankly, the Iraqi people won't accept it," Odierno said. Multinational forces will continue to work with the Iraqi government to go after the groups who conduct these attacks, he added.
Suicide-vest attacks are among the most difficult to detect and stop. Yesterday, a woman was holding the hand of a young child as she detonated herself. Today, two more women detonated their vests as they were leaving worship. "Because the security has improved so much, the Iraqis are trying to make it easier to have freedom of movement in Baghdad," Odierno said. "[Terrorists] take advantage of that."
Al-Qaida still is attempting to turn back the clock and incite sectarian violence, the general said. "The important thing is that the Iraqis are not talking about sectarian violence" he added. "They are talking about rejecting the individuals who are conducting the attacks. Al-Qaida is not getting the response they want."
Odierno said the Iraqi government has handled the "Sons of Iraq" civilian security group program well. The government has paid all 92,000 members of the organization for the past two months. In addition, the Council of Ministers passed a bill this week that says that 20 percent of the Sons of Iraq will be moved into Iraq's security ministries and 80 percent into other government ministries.
"So their plan is to hire 100 percent of these individuals who have participated in this program," Odierno said. "It's an extremely positive sign." The government has budgeted $300 million for the program.
On the operational side, coalition forces are out of the centers of the cities except for Baghdad, where the process continues, and Mosul, where al-Qaida continues to be a problem.
"We continue to execute the strategy," Odierno said. "We still will have transition teams with the Iraqis. We still have liaison teams at the joint security stations. We will be there to support them with enablers if they need them. We will be available if they ask for our assistance. We will focus on the outskirts of Baghdad and the belts around the big cities."
In Mosul, the remnants of al-Qaida still operate. Coalition and Iraqi forces conducted operations in Mosul aimed at al-Qaida and, "we've had quite a bit of success, but we're not finished yet," Odierno said.
Al-Qaida has been broken into very small cells – in Mosul, a few in Diyala and a couple in Baghdad, Odierno said. "But they are small and decentralized, and that what we have to continue to go after," he added.
Mosul now has a Sunni-led government, and this will make it more difficult for al-Qaida to have the passive support of the people of Mosul, the general said. Additional Iraqi and coalition forces are operating in and around Mosul, and they are clearing the city.
U.S. troops and leaders are doing very well, the general said. "Our leaders are incredibly adaptable," he said. "And the morale of the soldiers is very good, because they see progress on the ground."