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General Sees ‘Glimmers of Hope’ in Baghdad Neighborhoods

By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2007 – Just shy of his division’s one-year mark of being on the ground in Iraq, the deputy commander for Multinational Division Baghdad said he sees “measured” and “remarkable” success within the capital city.

“We can see clear glimmers of hope, but a very clear recognition that the work yet to be done may be the hardest,” Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said during a conference call today from Baghdad. He said this work will go beyond the traditional role of security and the concentrations of U.S. troop’s efforts over the last year.

“(The work will go) much more into the kinds of decisions that must be made by the government of Iraq with the support of the Iraqi people,” he said. “And that can’t be taken for granted by any means.”

The general said that while success is in sight, it still is perhaps a bit out of reach. “We’re very sober about that as we approach it,” Brooks said.”

Brooks said there are many indicators of real change and momentum as his troops continue forward. He attributed these positive signs to both living and working with Iraq’s civilian population in addition to increased partnership with Iraqi security forces and what he called the “psychology of security.”

“The whole approach to protecting the population is what is at the heart of the effort,” he said. That is why, beginning in January, the first command outpost of U.S. soldiers was placed in the heart of the population so soldiers could live where they worked, he explained.

There are currently 71 of these outposts -- made up of joint security stations and coalition outposts -- located in the midst of the Iraqi people.

“In nearly every case, it was placed in the midst of where problems existed,” Brooks said. The first one, he explained, was in the area formerly referred to as the Sunni Triangle, where al Qaeda traveled into western Baghdad, which also attracted elements of the Jayish al-Mahdi militia.

“(It was) very costly for us to take that piece of territory away from both adversary groups, protect the population expanding away from outpost and change the environment for them,” the general said.

Brooks said his troops are having success primarily because they live where they work.

“The population knows we didn’t leave and as a result of that, the degree of confidence has been significant,” he said. “And with that comes a belief that things are getting better.”

The general said Iraqi citizens are realizing that things are getting better with their own actions. “The rising up of volunteer groups who are willing to stand against whatever threat has come into their area – that indicates the rejection of criminal groups, and certainly that rejects the dangerous and deadly hand of al Qaeda,” Brooks said. “We see this occurring throughout the area.”

Brooks said more than 9,000 citizens have volunteered to provide security to important Baghdad areas, such as key sites and road intersections. In October, 1,600 of those were incorporated as legitimate police into the Iraqi security force upon their graduation from the Abu Ghraib training center.

The general also attributes his troops’ successes to the addition of two and a half brigades into Baghdad earlier this year. By serving as a “shot in the arm,” Brooks said they significantly increased the capabilities of forces in the area.

“As a result, our persistence is different, our ability to apply pressure where needed is different, and our ability to act on quality information that flows in from the population being protected is also enabled by having more forces available,” he said.

The general said the pressure has been applied in such a way that it has virtually broken the capacity of al Qaeda to move with freedom and to gain footholds within the population.

“(The surge) gave enough encouragement to the population to rise up and turn against them,” he said. “We think there are no longer any strongholds or sanctuaries for al Qaeda anywhere in Baghdad.”

Brooks also lauded the efforts of Iraqi security forces in partnering with U.S. forces and therefore becoming more successful in the area.

He gave examples of two times within the past few weeks when Iraqi forces have played a key role in the planning and execution of successful missions: the rescue of eight Diyala province sheiks abducted by Shiia extremists on Oct. 29 and clearing of a mosque frequently used by terrorists in the northern part of Baghdad on Nov. 3.

“We see these types of indicators that the government of Iraq is increasing in its will to take action against any maligned actors and are successful as principle actors with us as partners,” he said.

He also cited several instances where the Iraqi infrastructure and neighborhoods are being rebuilt and businesses are once again thriving.

“I sense that opportunity has never been greater,” Brooks said. “Not only because of security, but also there is interest rising in the population. People are looking for things and are willing to commit themselves to making a difference.”

“They are enjoying the peace and stability that is starting to come back (into Baghdad),” he said.

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