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Coalition Forces Exert Pressure on al Qaeda, Other Extremists in Iraq

By Maj. Steven Lamb, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Aug. 17, 2007 – Multinational Division Baghdad troops are doing their part to contribute to Multinational Corps Iraq's Operation Phantom Strike by continuing to apply pressure on al Qaeda and Shiia extremists throughout the Iraqi capital.

"It was on or about June 15 when we had the final surge units on the ground that gave us the capacity to continue to surge in all the (neighborhoods) in Baghdad," said Army Brig. Gen. John Campbell, the division's deputy commanding general for maneuver.

In the last month, the division's main effort has been in the East Rashid area, in southwestern Baghdad, where troops have captured many al Qaeda leaders along with eight to 10 leaders of a network responsible for many car bombs that exploded on the Karadah peninsula in July.

Aside from the thrust of combat operations, there is also a "tribal awakening," among Sunnis, causing them to turn against al Qaeda, said Army Col. Richard Welch, chief of Multinational Division Baghdad’s Reconciliation and Engagement Cell.

"The tribes are a moderating force here," Welch said. "They are the one element that knows how to get along and resolve their differences. … (They do this) both inter-tribally and intra-tribally, because that is what tribal leaders do. It is dispute resolution."

Welch and other military and civic leaders have been told that the tribes are tired of the killing and that it is time for a change. One of the ways they are amplifying this growing wedge between Sunni residents and al Qaeda is to help bring Sunni volunteers, who at one time may have been against the government of Iraq, into the Iraqi security forces, he said.

"We just finished vetting 1,738 names through the Ministry of the Interior, and the first 1,100 of them will start Iraqi police training this Saturday," he said.

These 1,738 are just the first part of the roughly 12,600 new police officers Multinational Division Baghdad hopes to recruit over the next six months, Campbell said. These new recruits will come from both Sunni and Shiia tribes.

"We're trying to make the Iraqi security forces the dominant security force for Iraq," Campbell said. He added that such tribal awareness is starting to take hold in some Shiia areas, as well as Sunni.

"For us in Baghdad, it is a balance working the (al Qaeda in Iraq) and the Shiia extremist sides; we can't do one without the other."

Campbell cited the celebration of a recent religious pilgrimage that happened without any violence as an example of how these efforts are paying off.

"The (Iraqi Security Forces) really did a great job; we are really proud of what they did," he said. "They really took this on as a capstone to show that they have come a long way. They planned it. They organized it. They did all the back briefs and all the rehearsals. We were just in a supporting role," Campbell said. "The Iraqis felt really good about what they did, and we felt really good about what they did."

The operation’s success can be attributed to several factors, Col. Toby Green, Multinational Division Baghdad’s operations officer, said.

"The Baghdad operational command leadership and senior (Iraqi military) officials demonstrated extraordinary initiative, deft planning and skilled execution of all security and civic support activities associated with this observance," he said. "This event was essentially a corps-level exercise for the (Iraqi security forces). It was a remarkable success."

Conditions set by Iraqi and coalition forces in the days preceding the event contributed to its success, Green said.

"Working together, the security forces have exploited all forms of intelligence to take the fight to the enemy," he said. "Combined operations interdicted several planned extremist attacks intended to wreak havoc on the pilgrimage."

Green said this dealt a blow to al Qaeda elements in the city. Intelligence reports indicate that these precision operations resulted in the kill or capture of 11 key terrorist leaders and more than 30 members of a car-bomb network, as well as the discovery and disarming or destruction of several large caches and vehicles rigged for attack.

(Army Maj. Steven Lamb is assigned to Multinational Division Baghdad.)

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