By By David McKeeby
August 30, 2006
"We're seeing progress toward reducing the number of kidnappings, murders and sectarian violence in areas in which we're operating," Caldwell told journalists at an August 28 briefing in Baghdad. Iraqi army and police units, supported by U.S.-led coalition forces, he said, "have reduced the amount of violence, and we're working to set the conditions so the Iraqi leadership and local citizens can revitalize their communities."
From July to August, Baghdad's average daily murder rate dropped 46 percent and insurgent attacks within Baghdad province declined to an average of about 23 per day, Caldwell said. From August 7 to August 25, he added, "the murder rate has dropped 50 percent over the daily rate for July."
Under Operation Together Forward, Iraqi and coalition forces have focused their efforts on the capital's most violent neighborhoods, searching more than 33,000 buildings, confiscating more than 700 illegal weapons and detaining 70 individuals with suspected links to insurgent groups, terrorist cells, or militant organizations involved in sectarian violence.
Once cleared of violent elements, the communities receive regular security patrols and help with identifying and funding civic works projects to repair key infrastructure.
A sense of normalcy at last is returning to Baghdad's Dura, Ghazalia and Amiriyah neighborhoods, Caldwell said, as evidenced by area residents returning to the streets, businesses reopening and more wedding parties being held. Building on their success in these areas, Iraqi and coalition forces expanded into the city's north central Adhamiya neighborhood August 27.
In addition, only eight car-bombing incidents took place in August, representing a 50 percent decline. That figure also represented the lowest monthly average in almost eight months until a pair of attacks occurred August 27.
These attacks show that the "insurgents and terrorists are punching back," Caldwell acknowledged. "They want to negate recent Iraqi security successes in Baghdad and divert media attention."
In August, Iraqi army and police units partnered with coalition forces to launch 140 operations against terrorists operating in Iraq, killing 17, wounding five and detaining 300 suspects. Among the "high-value" targets captured was a member of al-Qaida in Iraq linked to the August bombing of a Kurdish political party headquarters in Mosul.
Caldwell said that Iraqi and coalition forces recently launched 21 "intelligence-driven" military operations in and around Baghdad, resulting in 16 arrests of militants with suspected links to sectarian violence.
Even though these gains represent a promising start, Caldwell emphasized that security operations would continue for the next several months.
IRAQI AUTHORITIES PREPARING TO TAKE CONTROL OF MILITARY
"As we continue to make progress toward defeating insurgents and terrorists," Caldwell said, "we're doing so because the Iraqi security forces are in fact taking the lead more each and every day."
In September, Caldwell said, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense is scheduled to begin taking full operational control of the coutry's army, navy and air force. Currently, the coalition has transferred lead security responsibility to five of Iraq's 10 army divisions. (See related article.)
"This is a significant step in the Iraqi path to self-reliance and security," Caldwell said. The 115,000-strong force will come under the direct operational control of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who also serves as commander in chief of Iraq's armed forces, Caldwell said.
The transition of control of Iraq's armed forces to the Iraqi government should take several months, Caldwell said.
RECONCILIATION PROCESS CONTINUES
As security operations continue, Caldwell also cited progress in another key initiative the Iraqi government's "national reconciliation dialogue," aimed at bringing representatives from the country's diverse communities together to support a unified, peaceful and prosperous new Iraq. (See related article.)
On August 20, he said, officials from the Iraqi security forces, national and local governmental officials, and local civic, tribal and religious leaders met in Hillah to map out a strategic plan to shape a peaceful future for Babil province.
"These leaders came together despite their different interests and needs because they expressed the desire to work together toward an Iraqi future free from sectarian violence and senseless killing," Caldwell said.
At the conference, organized by provincial police chief Major General Das Hamza, participants met to discuss the government's national reconciliation objectives and to sign an oath pledging to work together toward meeting them, without regard to ethnic, religious or tribal differences. They established four committees to study the prospects of allowing former government officials to return to duty, counterterrorism, disbanding militias and building the security forces.
In Baghdad, Caldwell said, a similar meeting was organized August 26-27, which drew several hundred tribal leaders.
Both events, Caldwell said, show that, "Iraqi leaders on every level are seeking harmony while these violent extremists seek discord. But it'll be the Iraqi people who will decide their future, and it is they who can deny legitimacy to these extremists by working with their government toward unity, security and prosperity."
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