Increase in Insurgent Attacks Expected During Ramadan
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2004 Based on intelligence information, coalition forces expect an increase in violence during the holy month of Ramadan, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman said today in a Pentagon Channel interview from Baghdad.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, MNFI's deputy operations director, said the number of attacks actually dropped in August and September. But in the first week of Ramadan, which started Oct. 15, there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of attacks. This is in comparison to a 40-percent increase during the same time period in 2003.
"Symbolically, it's been a time, as we experienced last year, for increased attacks against the multinational forces. The fortunate thing is that these attacks have been less lethal than we anticipated," Lessel said, adding that there has been an increase in the number of indirect-fire attacks and car bombings across the country.
"We think that the timing of these attacks is in conjunction with Ramadan, and also during the period of time leading up to the U.S. elections in an effort to influence public opinion," he said.
While 10 of 18 Iraqi provinces have had less than one attack per day, four provinces have had two to four attacks per day in the last four months. The remaining four -- Baghdad, Anbar, Salah ad Din and Ninawa -- have had five or more attacks per day in the same time period. Those four provinces are home to about 40 percent of Iraq's population and incur about 80 percent of the attacks, according to officials.
Recently, air and ground elements have conducted sustained operations to drive insurgents from their strongholds. This campaign, Lessel said, is ongoing and will continue through the month of Ramadan.
The continually growing Iraqi security force is helping with the security environment and to provide the stability necessary to conduct elections in January, Lessel said.
There are now just over 100,000 Iraqi security forces. In the past two weeks, more than 2,000 Iraqi police graduated from academies, and more than 5,000 Iraqi police are in the pipeline for training, Lessel said. The plan is to grow the forces to about 145,000 by the January elections, he added.
"The Iraqi forces are key to the long-term success of our mission," the general said. "As the Iraqi security forces grow in their capacity and grow in their capability to conduct security operations, the multinational force can pull back."
Also going a long way toward providing for a more secure environment is a weapons buy-back program started by the Iraqi government last week in Baghdad. The program garnered thousands of weapons and thousands of pieces of ammunition including, mortars, rockets and some surface-to-air missiles, Lessel said.
"This won't solve all the problems across the country, but it's a step in the right direction," he said.
The Iraqi government invested $5 million in the program. It was so successful that the government has decided to take it nationwide, beginning in Basra. Lessel said the weapons will be distributed to the Iraqi security forces for their use in the future.
Lessel said he thinks that in light of the elections that have been held recently and the mission to secure Iraqi elections in January, servicemembers in Iraq understand the importance of elections and voting.
"Commanders from the top to the bottom have emphasized that it's important to exercise that right," he said. "Americans should all reflect on that and exercise our vote. It's an important right that we have, that we're fighting for the Iraqi people. Make sure your vote gets counted on the second of November."