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Insurgents Still Target Baghdad, Official Says

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 13, 2006 – Baghdad remains the center of gravity in the insurgency's drive to prevent a national unity government from forming in Iraq, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman said today.

The enemy still focuses attacks on Iraqi civilians, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said during a briefing in Baghdad. He cited the April 7 bombing of Buratha Mosque in the west Baghdad neighborhood of Kadamiyah as an example. The attack, involving multiple suicide bombers, killed at least 75 people and wounded another 135.

"What (the enemy) tried to do on that day last week is he tried to inflame sectarian violence," Lynch said. "That didn't happen."

The general credited the lack of violence in the aftermath of the bombing to the Iraqi government, religious leaders' calls for calm, and an effective security force presence in Baghdad.

Around the country, Iraqi security forces are continuing to grow and improve, Lynch said. The quarter-million trained and equipped Iraq security force members also are taking more lead in counterinsurgency operations.

"A year ago ... there were only three battalions in the entire Iraqi security force that had the lead in counterinsurgency operations in their respective areas," he said. "Now we have two divisions, 16 brigade headquarters, and 58 battalions ... leading counterinsurgency operations with some coalition support."

The Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement also is growing, Lynch said. In January 2005, there were 51 border forts. Today, he said, there are 251 border forts and 20,000 border enforcement personnel.

"(They're) on a glide path to have 28,000 people to occupy these border forts and secure Iraq's sovereign borders," he said.

In three operations in the north last week, Iraqi security forces, supported by coalition forces, targeted terrorist cells, Lynch said. These operations led to the detention of more than 60 known leaders and members of the insurgency.

Another northern area operation began with a request from local citizens who were tired of the terrorists and insurgents in their town. Coalition and Iraqi security forces cordoned off a city and forced the insurgents out.

"We're convinced that we've rid the city of terrorists and we've blockaded the city so terrorists can't come in," Lynch said. "(Then) we focused on improving the conditions for the people of that city."

Four million dollars in resources have been dedicated to improve living conditions in the area, he said. Two days after the operation began, a medical clinic was established and saw 375 patients its first day.

Other operations last week turned up weapons caches on an island in the Euphrates. One contained not only bomb-making materials, but Iraqi police uniforms as well. Explosive experts called the caches significant finds, he said.

Lynch said operations also continue in western Iraq, where attacks are decreasing. Anbar province is now averaging about 18 attacks per day, in contrast to the 27 per day it averaged in October 2005, he said.

"The people of Al Anbar continue to raise their hand to recruit and be involved in the protection of their area," he said. Citizens are volunteering for both the Iraqi army and the police force, which the coalition is focused on growing.

Police transition teams will help the coalition achieve this goal, he said.

On March 27 a raid took a known associate of Osama bin Laden off the streets, Lynch said. Known as al Qaeda's "ambassador," he had established liaisons between terrorist networks and also was an operator focusing on the Baqubah area.

"Those kinds of operations will continue to take down the most horrendous enemy to the people of Iraq, and that's al Qaeda and (fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) and his network," he said.

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