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Iraqi Forces 'Stepped Up' Following Sectarian Violence, Official Says

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2006 – Today was "very quiet" in Baghdad, and for the most part people are complying with a new curfew, a military official in Iraq said today. Iraqi security forces have established a number of static traffic control points throughout the city so they can enforce the rule of law, the official said.

Iraqi security forces "stepped up" to enhance security and quiet tensions in Iraq after sectarian violence erupted there this week, Army Col. Jeffrey J. Snow, commander of the 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, said.

"They are supported by the vast majority of Iraqis and are the great hope of the people in their area of responsibility as they work diligently to bring peace to the Iraqi street," Snow said about the Iraqi security forces during a press briefing in Iraq today.

The bombing of the Shiite Muslim Golden Mosque in Samarra Feb. 22 set off reprisals against Sunni Muslims, which resulted in at least 130 deaths and an unprecedented daytime curfew being put in place.

The colonel said Iraqi security forces took the lead in quelling the violence and U.S. troops have postured to assist if need be. He said that his brigade is working alongside two "outstanding" Iraqi Army brigades, the 1st Cobra Brigade and the 3rd Muthanna Brigade of the Iraqi Army's 6th Infantry Division.

"Determination to succeed is matched by the daily sacrifice they endure to ensure the future of their country," he said of both brigades. "It will be a struggle, and it will take longer than people want, but ... Iraqis have the required tools to succeed."

When asked about the possibility of a full-scale civil war erupting between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Snow said he felt that most Iraqis understand that the Golden Mosque bombing was an act of terrorism, therefore they will not resort to sectarian violence.

He was also asked if there was an increased level of concern among U.S. military commanders that U.S. troops on the ground there will get caught in the middle of escalating violence.

"I think all of us as commanders, regardless of rank, are always concerned for the welfare of our soldiers," he said. "But I think we have provided the right guidance to our soldiers and taken the prudent measures. They understand that this is a challenging time."

Even though U.S. forces are working in a secondary capacity following the recent violence, rules of engagement have not changed. If U.S. troops "see someone that is breaking the law, they could take the appropriate actions, escalation, graduation of force, and whatever measures are necessary to enforce the rule of law," Snow said.

But the colonel reiterated that Iraqi forces are undoubtedly in the lead when it comes to sectarian violence. "If they need assistance responding to a particular situation, then we would coordinate for the integration of those combat multipliers, which is what we've done throughout the time we have been here," he said. "But they are clearly in the lead."

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