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Operation Aims to Curb Violence as Iraq's Government Takes Shape

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2006 – Iraqi and coalition forces have boosted their presence in Baghdad in response to a surge in attacks against Iraqis that officials link to today's seating of the country's new parliament, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman told reporters.

"Operation Scales of Justice" was launched to enhance security in Iraq's capital city as the parliament begins selecting the country's new government, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said today in Baghdad.

The 275-member body met briefly today to begin the difficult process of electing a president, two vice presidents and a prime minister. Lynch called the seating of the new government another nail in the coffin for extremists committed to preventing democracy from taking hold in Iraq. "Clearly, (this is) an important milestone in Iraq's pathway to democracy," he said.

"If you are the leader of the insurgency -- if you are (Abu Musab al-) Zarqawi, ... a terrorist or foreign fighters, if you still want to discredit the Iraqi government and derail the democratic process -- then today, you are mad, because the Iraqi people were successful in seating a parliament," Lynch said.

As a last-ditch effort to stop momentum toward successful democracy, terrorists are working to incite sectarian violence with a focus on Baghdad, seat of the new government, he said. "The people of Iraq are in a very vulnerable period while they try to form this national unity government" and insurgents continue to try to stop it, Lynch said.

Lynch reported a dramatic spike in both roadside and car bombs across Iraq. Most are targeting Iraqi civilians and security forces, with attacks against them up 65 percent over the past four weeks compared to the previous six months, he said.

"All are well-placed and well-timed on the part of the insurgency," he said. "(The enemy is) clearly targeting civilians to inflame sectarian violence, and we are seeing that in spades in Baghdad."

Murders and assassinations also are up, to as many as 30 a day. Lynch said most appear to be retaliatory, then counter-retaliatory attacks, fueling "a cycle of violence."

In response, Iraqi security and coalition forces participating in Scales of Justice have stepped up patrols and increased their operations in Baghdad, Lynch said.

Most of these 3,700 additional forces were moved temporarily to Baghdad from less volatile areas of the country. In addition, a 1st Armored Division task force deployed to the Baghdad area. This task force is part of a "call forward force" that had been based in Kuwait and was ready to conduct operations in Baghdad within 48 hours of being called upon, Lynch said.

This short-term deployment will have a long-term impact for the people of Iraq, he said. Once the national unity government forms, Lynch said, insurgents will have lost their opportunity to derail the democratic process in Iraq.

Three years into Operation Iraqi Freedom, Lynch cited the solid progress taking place in Iraq as a democratic government takes shape. He contrasted the days when former dictator Saddam Hussein ruled the country with a bloody iron fist to today, as he stands trial in Baghdad. Lynch noted that it's a trial "by Iraqi people in an Iraqi court against Saddam Hussein for his crimes against the Iraqi people."

Iraq's security forces are stepping up and gaining in capability, Lynch said. Iraqi security forces are participating in 74 percent of all operations.

Iraqi citizens are gaining confidence in these forces as well, Lynch said. They're stepping forward to report suspicious activity and calling in more tips to an anonymous hotline.

Lynch reported "significant progress" toward the desired end state in Iraq. He described that state to reporters today: "Iraq is at peace with its neighbors, an ally in the war on terror. It has a representative government that respects the human rights of all Iraqis. It has a security force that can maintain domestic order and deny Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists."

He called today's political progress a big step toward that objective. "This idea of forming a representative government is coming across loud and clear in spades today with the seating and the convening of the council of representatives," he said.

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