General Predicts Fewer Sunni Ties to Terrorists
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2006 Iraqi Sunnis who may have partnered with foreign terrorist groups in the past will abandon that practice because it's against their interests, the U.S. officer in charge of operations in northern Iraq predicted today.
"I think we'll probably see fewer and fewer Sunni organizations aligned with terrorists and foreign fighters," Army Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Turner II, the commander of Multinational Division North, said to Pentagon reporters during a news conference via satellite.
"The Iraqi people fully realize that the goals of al Qaeda are not compatible with the Iraq of the future that they envision," Turner said.
Turner, who's also the commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) from Fort Campbell, Ky., said his command's 23,000 U.S. servicemembers and 105,000 Iraqi soldiers and police patrol an area the size of Pennsylvania. The command's area includes the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul and Samarra.
Turner said his mission is to find and defeat terrorists and promote stability while preparing Iraqi security forces to assume more responsibility.
He noted the combined forces still see organized al Qaeda elements, but have been successful in killing terrorist leaders. The replacement al Qaeda leaders are markedly less experienced and effective than their predecessors, he said.
"It's getting easier and easier to find and capture or kill them," the general said.
He also said Iraqi security forces are increasingly taking the lead in operations. The command is now working to improve the capabilities of Iraq's police, he said.
In addition, the general said the Dec. 15 election was a tremendous success. Sunni voters that had boycotted a previous election earlier in the year turned out in large numbers, along with Shiites and Kurds. Turner said 75 percent of registered voters in his area of operations cast ballots Dec. 15.
"The high voter turnout is a clear indicator that the citizens of Iraq not only have a strong desire for democracy, but they also have an increased sense of security," Turner said. He noted that security for the recent election was provided entirely by Iraqi security forces.