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Official Praises Iraqi Forces' Work Following Mosque Blast

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2006 – Iraqi soldiers and national police did a good job in helping quell unrest during the hours and days following the Feb. 22 bombing of a prominent Shiite mosque in Samarra, Iraq, a senior U.S. military leader said today.

Iraqi security forces "performed very well; they were very deliberate; they were poised," the senior official, speaking on background, told military analysts from his headquarters in Iraq during a phone interview.

The official said Iraqi forces provided "a settling influence on what was essentially a very emotionally charged atmosphere" after terrorists blew the top off the Golden Mosque. There were moments of unrest after the mosque attack, but the Iraqi people mostly followed the advice of their political and religious leaders to stay calm.

Shiites initially blamed Sunnis for the assault, while U.S. officials believe that al Qaeda sympathizers likely carried out the attack to stir up civil strife.

The Iraqi security forces decided not to confront groups of parading, but generally peaceable, militias in the aftermath of the mosque attack, a strategy that lessened the likelihood of expanded violence, the official said.

"The legitimate (Iraqi) security forces had a leveling effect on all that and kind of channeled all this excess energy" exhibited by the militias and other Iraqi citizens, the official explained.

There were reports, the official acknowledged, that some local Iraqi police chose not to get involved in stopping some unlawful activities during the unrest following the mosque bombing. But instances of that nature were very few and far between, he said.

The vast majority of Iraqi soldiers and national police performed with distinction in keeping the peace, the official said. "I saw this as a watershed moment for the Iraqi security forces," the official said. "And they not only passed the challenge, but did so very well."

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