Coalition Working to Pacify Fallujah, Destroy Sadr Militia
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 8, 2004 Coalition forces are working to pacify Fallujah and other parts the Sunni Triangle area, and they are destroying the militia led by Muqtada al-Sadr in the central and southern areas of Iraq, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq said today.
Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 7, said during a briefing from Baghdad that the coalition will not allow thugs, extremists and terrorists to stop the transition to Iraqi sovereignty or to try to control the country with a violent power play.
"Coalition and Iraqi security forces are conducting deliberate, precise and robust combat operations to separate, isolate and destroy the enemy wherever we find him on the battlefield," Sanchez said. "We cannot tolerate acts of violence directed against the Iraqi people and its fundamental government and security structures."
The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps "have made tremendous progress in restoring legitimate authority to Fallujah," Sanchez said. He characterized opposition as "moderate," made up mostly of insurgent attacks. He said the Marines continue their pursuit of key targets in the heart of the city.
The Marines launched Operation Vigilant Resolve following the killing of five soldiers north of Fallujah, March 31, and the murder and mutilation of four American private security specialists in Fallujah the same day. Sanchez said once the area is pacified, the Marines will move to stability operations in the city of about 300,000. "The security situation will improve over the days and weeks ahead," he said. "Once the security situation in Fallujah is stabilized, the citizens in Fallujah will find no better friends than the Marines of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force."
He said the Marines are experts at civil-military operations and will bring substantial resources to improve the quality of life in Fallujah. Sanchez said coalition forces are allowing food and humanitarian supplies into the city.
In the central and southern areas of Iraq, coalition forces have launched another operation dubbed Resolute Sword. This operation is aimed directly at the militia forces of Muqtada al-Sadr. Pentagon officials said Sadr is a minor Shiia cleric who is launching a power play to increase his stature in the country as transfer of sovereignty approaches. The cleric is anti-American and has urged followers to kill coalition forces.
An Iraqi judge issued a warrant for Sadr's arrest in conjunction with the brutal murder of a rival Shiia cleric last year. On April 3, demonstrations following the coalition's closing Sadr's newspaper turned violent in Najaf. Officials had closed down the newspaper for encouraging and trying to incite violence against the coalition. The unrest spread to other cities including Baghdad, Nasiriyah, Kut, Amarah, Basra and Karbala.
"In Baghdad, our forces remain on the offensive, conducting intelligence-based raids to destroy Sadr's militia as they attempt to intimidate the population," Sanchez said. "Despite attempts to incite violence, attack government facilities and disrupt the lives of Iraqis, coalition units are in firm control of Baghdad."
Sadr's militias do control portions of Kut and Najaf. Complicating the situation in Najaf is the presence of thousands of Shiia Muslims in the area for the annual Shiite pilgrimage holiday called Arbaeen, which starts April 9. Sanchez said the coalition has been working with religious and security leaders in the region to beef up security. Even with this effort, the area will be dangerous. He said Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, an al Qaeda ally operating in Iraq, has vowed to kill Shiia. Sanchez cautioned pilgrims to be vigilant.
The general said that offensive operations will continue to fight Sadr's militia, its leaders and its facilitators. "Sadr's gang is attempting without success to sabotage progress toward a free and independent Iraq," he said. "It is attempting to intimidate the majority of moderate Iraqis who seek democracy and a society that is ruled by law and not by the barrel of a gun."
Sanchez said violence will continue in the area until Sadr turns himself in or his militia is destroyed. "Coalition military forces will conduct powerful, deliberate and very robust military operations until the job is done," he said. "We are committed, and we will not be deterred."
Helping the command is the fact that it is in the midst of a major troop rotation, and this provides an increased number of U.S. troops in the country. "We are taking advantage of these forces, and we will manage the redeployment to give us the combat power that is necessary to accomplish the mission at hand," he said.
The current coalition strength troop strength in Iraq is about 160,000 -- 134,000 Americans. More than 200,000 Iraqis serve in the country's security forces.
"There is a new dawn approaching for those Iraqis that have chosen to support freedom and democracy," Sanchez said. "That is what we stand for, that is what Iraqis expect and that is what we are committed to in this country."