Sectarian Violence Diminishing in Iraq, General Says
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 17, 2006 The sectarian violence that surged after the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra, Iraq, has tapered off, and Iraqis are optimistic about the future, a top U.S. commander in Iraq said today.
Violence is now at a lower level than it was before the mosque bombing, and the attacks are of the same type they were then, Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said during a video news conference from Iraq.
"I don't want to downplay the tragedy of the violence that has occurred; however, it may be unfair to characterize every post-Feb. 22 event sectarian in nature," Chiarelli said. "Some of those events are sectarian, but far fewer than are being reported. Most of the events are a combination of the work of al Qaeda in Iraq, insurgent attacks designed to prevent progress in building the government, and pure, unadulterated crime."
Chiarelli stressed that civil war is still far away for Iraq, as most of the people there do not see the sectarian divisions that are being stressed by the media. "Many Iraqis are part of mixed marriages and live in mixed neighborhoods and consider themselves Iraqis first," he said.
The Iraqi security forces' response to the recent sectarian violence is just another indicator of their continued progress, Chiarelli said. The Iraqi army is increasingly taking the lead in operations and taking responsibility for battle space, he said. In current operations, such as Operation Swarmer, Iraqi forces take on the majority of the responsibility, with U.S. and coalition forces in supporting roles, he said.
"We're finding Iraqi units, with our support, can be used in just about any operation we do in a counterinsurgency role," he said. "This is a force we have built and the Iraqis have built for that counterinsurgency fight, and I think they're particularly well-prepared, well-trained, and have the ability to do that in just about any area."
The goal is for Iraqis to control about 75 percent of the battle space by the end of summer, Chiarelli said, and all indications are that they will meet that goal. "We're doing a very, very good job, and the Iraqis are doing a great job moving forward," he said.
U.S. and coalition forces will spend extra time this year training the Iraqi police, Chiarelli said. Police training teams, unit partnerships and mentoring will be used to help develop the capability of the police force, which will eventually take responsibility for urban areas, he said.
The U.S. is working with the Iraqi government to build ministerial capacity so the government can provide essential services for all Iraqis, Chiarelli said. Provincial reconstruction teams will work with provincial governments in developing economic systems and building infrastructure so Iraqis can have clean water, electricity, fuel, proper sewage systems and trash removal, he said.
Iraqi citizens remain confident about the future and the progress their country is making, Chiarelli said. The seating of the Council of Representatives yesterday was a big step toward a national unity government, which the citizens are looking forward to, he said.
"I remain convinced that the resiliency and optimism of the Iraqi people will keep Iraq moving in the right direction," he said.