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Al Qaeda in Iraq Severely Disrupted, General Says

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2006 – The killing of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June severely disrupted the terrorist organization’s capability, but foreign fighters entering Iraq continue to cause problems, a senior Multinational Force Iraq spokesman told reporters in Baghdad yesterday.

“What the al Qaeda in Iraq could do in May and what they can do today has been seriously degraded,” Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said. “They are not as effective or as organized today as they were back in May. But they're still an organization out there.”

The general said about 50 to 70 foreign fighters enter Iraq every month. “We know that most of them come from Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt and Syria,” he said.

Iraqi and coalition forces are capturing or killing between 30 and 50 of these foreign fighters per month, he said. “Today in Iraq there are currently 381 foreign fighters in detention,” he said.

Most of the suicide bombers in Iraq are foreigners, he said. “And therefore, the importance of securing the borders of this country becomes more paramount when you see that kind of infiltration occurring,” he said.

Caldwell said about 27,000 trained and equipped Iraqi border forces are operating on the country’s borders. “That is having a positive impact, but these are brand new forces that have just been trained,” he said. “They're just starting to operate out there, and it's going to take some time before we see the real benefit of their presence.”

The border forces are not just there to stop the infiltration of terrorists, but also to prevent any kind of smuggling or illegal transportation of anything across the borders, he said. Coalition forces continue to support the Iraqi border forces by providing aerial and ground assets. “There is a very close relationship between the coalition forces and the border security forces that are out there operating predominantly along the Syrian border and the Iranian border, since those seem to be the two places where we see the foreign fighters come from,” Caldwell said.

Coalition forces and the Iraqi government are striving to achieve three main goals. “Unity, security and prosperity are the ultimate three goals,” he said. Achieving these goals, however, will depend largely on Iraqi people and their elected government, the general added.

“Our ultimate goal for the coalition forces here in Iraq is to see an Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors, that has a country here that has a representative government that respects the rights of all Iraqi citizens, with security forces that are sufficient to maintain the security for the Iraqi citizens, and then to deny this country as safe haven for terrorists,” Caldwell said.

The general acknowledged that major challenges lay ahead for the Iraqi government. “They have to reestablish basic services for the citizens of Iraq. And when we say basic services, we're talking about electricity, water and sewage,” he said.

Caldwell also mentioned a letter from the president of the Islamic community of Kosovo that was recently published in an Iraqi paper. The letter explained the difficulties Kosovo had to overcome when transitioning from war-torn region to stability.

The letter talks about security, democracy, constitutional and privatization issues, Caldwell said. “The biggest challenge of all (in Kosovo), though, was reconciliation,” he said.

“He tells you to keep hope, to keep your faith, to not lose the fact that it's going to be hard and challenging, but in the end you will prevail and you will find the peace that they have found in Kosovo and what they have discovered there for their people,” Caldwell said describing the letter’s content.

“It's a very moving letter in that it's a very recent example,” the general said.

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