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Official Cites Progress as 'Iraqi Freedom Day' Approaches

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2006 – Insurgents may still be working to derail the democratic process in Iraq. But it's important to look at the bigger picture as a three-year milestone approaches, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesperson said during a briefing from Baghdad yesterday.

"On the 9th of April (2003) ... the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square was toppled," Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch told reporters. "Sometimes we get so caught up in the event of the day ... we forget progress has been made over the last three years."

Saddam's regime was toppled and now Saddam is being tried in an Iraqi court, Lynch said. Iraqis people have drafted and ratified a constitution and are working to form a national unity government, as well.

Iraq also has more than a quarter-million security forces members trained and equipped, Lynch said. The coalition's goal is to grow that number to 325,000 by December.

"That is amazing progress in a three-year period of time, and it'll be celebrated by the Iraqis on the 9th of April," he said. "The Iraqi government has declared 9 April as Iraqi Freedom Day."

Lynch also discussed the constant pressure on the insurgency in Iraq that Iraqi security and coalition forces are maintaining.

"We continue to press the attack against the insurgents, specifically to press the attack against (terrorist leader Abu Musab al-) Zarqawi and al Qaeda," he said.

This pressure has resulted in the detention of two of leaders of Zarqawi's network, Lynch said. Questioning of Abu Qatada, a trusted Zarqawi adviser who was detained about six weeks ago, led Iraqi security forces to Abu Aymen.

Captured on March 7, Aymen has known ties to Zarqawi and was Saddam Hussein's aide and chief of staff of intelligence, Lynch said.

"What we're finding is there's a lack of a specific quality inside the Zarqawi network, and that quality is loyalty," he said, adding the hope is Ayman also will provide useful, actionable intelligence.

While the most attacks in Iraq still take place in Baghdad and Anbar and Salah Ad Din provinces, there has been over time a reduction in violence throughout the country, he said. Twelve of 18 provinces currently average less than two attacks a day. Eight of those provinces average almost no attacks on a daily basis.

Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to capture insurgents and seize weapons caches, directly affecting the number of attacks seen across the country, Lynch said. He noted that combined forces have netted at least 31 insurgents and multiple weapons caches across Iraq in the past week.

"We're taking away the bomb makers. We're taking away the munitions. We're taking away the cells that are planning and conducting (attacks)," he said.

Iraqi security forces are leading nearly 30 percent of operations within Iraq, Lynch said. In Anbar province, though, there are shortfalls in the numbers of Iraqi security forces needed to secure the province.

"We need 5,000 additional members of the army, and we need 8,000 additional members of the Iraqi police in al Anbar," he said. The desired number of Iraqi police in Anbar province is 11,330 by the end of this year. Currently, the force numbers about 3,000.

Provincial leaders have said they need their own residents to join security forces, sparking a massive recruiting drive by the ministries of Defense and Interior. A mobile recruiting team from the Defense Ministry, with coalition recruiters, started in Qaim and worked its way down the Euphrates River Valley, successfully recruiting more than 1,000 men for the Iraqi army, he said.

Lynch said that 200 citizens of Ramadi, in Anbar province, who had enlisted in the Iraqi police and graduated from the Baghdad Police Academy March 23 "were welcomed as returning heroes back to Ramadi."

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