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Official Discusses Way Ahead in Baghdad

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2006 – The seating of the permanent Iraqi government was a "decisive moment" in the struggle in Iraq and may be "the defining moment" for the future, a senior Multinational Division Baghdad official said today.

The official, speaking on background, said progress is being made in security operations across the area of operations around Baghdad. The area includes the Iraqi provinces of Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf and Babil. The official said that by the end of the summer security operations in Najaf and Karbala will be handled locally. In Babil, the process will go into the fall. In Baghdad, "we're not close to being ready, but we're making good progress," he said.

The official said the country is making tremendous strides economically and politically, but leaders hope for more. He said getting young adult males jobs is still the best way to get Iraqis away from the influence of insurgents. National unity will lead to security, he said, and security will lead to prosperity. The Iraqis need to realize they live in a rich country, and they can be comfortable.

Coordinating security efforts in Iraq is a challenge, but progress is being made, the official said. Iraqi army and police units come under the multinational division's command. Since the middle of March 2006, all operations must be coordinated through the Baghdad Joint Coordination Center. This initiative ensures Iraqi and coalition forces cooperate. The official said this has cut down on the number of "transgressions" in Baghdad by cutting down the number of unauthorized raids.

All operations Iraqi and coalition forces conduct must be valid under the rule of law. The center coordinates operations to prevent friendly fire problems. The center also works to ensure that the concept of operations through the area is consistent. "We're operating together in eight combined areas in Baghdad," the official said. "This didn't happen before."

A test of the system occurred every time the Iraqi Council of Representatives met. The official said the council has met nine times and "there hasn't been one security incident." The concept forced the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Interior and coalition forces to work together.

The official said he continually stresses the notion of "one Iraq" to members of the Iraqi security forces. He said he tells Iraqi officials they must "make decisions for Iraq and the people of Iraq, not for any sectarian, tribal or ethnic need."

The police must convince the Iraqi people that they are there to serve all people regardless of their ethnicity, sect or tribe. "We have 262 police stations, 78 police training teams in Baghdad," he said. "We're trying to gain trust and confidence in the police."

Across the region Iraqi forces are responsible for security in many areas with coalition forces in support. At some point, coalition forces will transition to a smaller role. "We'll be on fewer (forward operating bases), and we will provide just training assistance and quick reaction," he said.

In the next few months, more and more Iraqi units will be assuming battlespace throughout Baghdad. The Iraqi 9th Division will stand up next month; the 6th Division is already operational; and the 8th Division should assume its battlespace in the south in August.

The official said improvised explosive devices remain the biggest killer in Iraq. He also said there are few "battles" with insurgents; the largest engagement had about 20 terrorists.

The official said Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a most-wanted terrorist leader in Iraq, is in trouble. He said Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq is working to foment sectarian violence in Iraq, and the Iraqis aren't buying it. He said Iraqi and coalition forces are earning trust by spending time with Iraqi civilians. "You have to build trust and confidence with the people," he said.

The new government should encourage Servicemembers of Multinational Division Baghdad, the official said. "Despite people trying to disrupt the government, it is moving ahead," he said. "The Golden Mosque bombing (in February in Samarra) had an impact here, but I've seen a willingness in this new government to get going. The people want and expect that."

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