City's Liberation Showed Coalition Intentions, Proved Iraqi Capabilities
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 21, 2006 The commander of the Army unit that played a key role in routing terrorists from Tal Afar, Iraq, last fall agreed today with President Bush's assertion that headway in the city represents a concrete example of progress taking place in Iraq.
Army Col. H.R. McMaster, commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and senior U.S. officer during "Operation Restoring Rights," said during television news interviews today the effort helped win over Iraqis who might have doubted the coalition's intentions. It also demonstrated that Iraqi security forces are gaining in capabilities and proving themselves as partners in their country's security, he said.
During a speech yesterday in Cleveland, Ohio, Bush highlighted the turnaround in Tal Afar -- a city once gripped by terrorist oppression that's now undergoing a vibrant revitalization -- as proof that the U.S. national strategy for victory in Iraq is working.
Operation Restoring Rights was the combined U.S. and Iraqi offensive conducted last fall to drive terrorists from Tal Afar. The northern Iraqi city near the Syrian border had become Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's main operating base, and its 200,000 residents were living in fear and intimidation.
Najim Abdullah Abid Al-Jibouri, the city's mayor, described the brutality taking place in Tal Afar. "The city was completely held hostage in the hands of (Zarqawi's) henchmen," Najim wrote in a statement put out by his office following the city's liberation. Schools, governmental services, businesses and offices were closed, and streets were silent because no one dared to walk them, he wrote. People barricaded themselves in their homes out of fear.
"Their savagery reached such a level that they stuffed the corpses of children with explosives and tossed them into the street in order to kill grieving parents attempting to retrieve the bodies of their young," Najim wrote.
Bush described some of these atrocities during yesterday's speech.
"It's amazing what this enemy had done to that city, literally choked the life out of it, conducting mass murder against innocent civilians (and) targeting playgrounds," McMaster said today on CNN.
Countering this threat required a "unity of effort" between Iraqi and coalition forces, he said on Fox News Channel. During Operation Restoring Rights, U.S. and Iraqi forces cleared neighborhoods and killed 150 terrorists and captured another 850, President Bush said yesterday. McMaster said the readiness of Iraq's security forces made the big difference in ensuring that terrorists could not return to Tal Afar after Operation Restoring Rights, as they had after a different operation a year earlier.
"What wasn't available in September of 2004 and was available for us in September of 2005 was a well-trained, very well-led Iraqi army division. And also, a lot of brave Iraqi leaders stood up to join us," he said. "We had really extraordinary unity of effort between Iraqi civil leaders, Iraqi army leaders (and) Iraqi police leaders, and we worked on this problem together because we knew that we had to save the people of this city from these brutal murderers."
McMasters agreed today with Bush's assessment that, in addition to ridding the city of terrorists, the operation won the citizen's confidence and encouraged them to participate in their country's new democracy. "What happened in our area is the people recognized that the enemies of Iraq wanted ... the country to fail and they recognized that we wanted the country to succeed," he said. "We wanted Tal Afar to succeed."
This recognition turned Tal Afar's citizens into partners with the Iraqi security forces and coalition troops against the terrorists, McMasters explained. "This was not an attack on Tal Afar; this was an attack for Tal Afar," he said. "And that was immensely important. It gave us access to the intelligence we needed, and there's a very high degree of cooperation between the Iraqi people, the reconstituted Iraqi police force, the Iraqi army and our forces."
McMasters said he believes more Iraqis, like those in Tal Afar, are recognizing that the insurgents don't have their best interests at heart. "I think that what you're seeing is, over time, the Iraqis will recognize what the enemy is trying to do -- trying to get them to fight among themselves, create a chaotic condition so they can operate freely -- and they want Iraq to fail," he said.
Najim praised the troops he called "lion hearts" who "changed the city of Tal Afar from a ghost town in which terrorists spread death and destruction, to a secure city flourishing with life."
The mayor called the operation in Tal Afar "among the finest military feats to date in Operation Iraqi Freedom." The operation "was clean, with little collateral damage, despite the ferocity of the enemy," he wrote. "With the skill and precision of surgeons, (the troops) dealt with the terrorist cancers in the city without causing unnecessary damage."
Najim recognized the U.S. lives lost in his city's liberation and extended condolences and thanks to their families. "Their sacrifice was not in vain," he wrote. "They will never be forgotten for giving their precious lives. ... Let America, their families and the world be proud of their sacrifice for humanity and life."
"America is proud of that sacrifice," Bush said during yesterday's speech. "And we're proud to have allies like Mayor Najim on our side in the fight for freedom."