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General Says Coalition Forces Winning Iraqis' Hearts, Minds

By Senior Master Sgt. Gene LaDoucer, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

KIRKUK AIR BASE, Iraq, Jan. 13, 2004 – While overwhelming force brought a quick end to major combat operations in Iraq, it's the coalition's ability to win over it's the country's people that ultimately will lead to a free Iraq, U.S. Central Command's deputy commander said here Jan. 12.

During the first of three stops in a daylong tour of military bases in Iraq, Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith spoke highly of the efforts of U.S. forces in establishing security and stability in Iraq. He also was quick to praise the efforts of Iraqis who have stepped forward to turn in weapons and identify anti-coalition forces.

"The people of Iraq are starting to realize they're the ones who'll have to do this, and they're coming forward," said the general, who later made stops at Tallil Air Base and Baghdad International Airport. "We're looking to them to take more of a leadership role."

Smith pointed to the Jan. 5 denouncement of violence by high-level Baath Party members as an example of the cooperation helping to stabilize the country. During a meeting at a U.S. Army headquarters in Tallafar, a member of Saddam Hussein's former political party said he's confident that by helping coalition forces, Iraqis will see swift and sure amendments to the years of poverty and hardship many in the country have endured.

"Once they realized we were here to help, many of them started coming forward telling us where the (improvised explosive devices) were. Many of them also came forward with the location of anti-coalition members, and we're seeing a lot of turning in of weapons," the general said.

While progress is being made, challenges remain, said Smith, who became CENTCOM's second in command in October.

"We've watched the number of significant events (against coalition forces) decline considerably, but we've seen an increase in attacks on Iraqis who are supporting the coalition," he said. "We're working that piece now, which doesn't work in the favor of the anti-coalition folks out there.

"I won't say we've turned the corner or that there is light at the end of the tunnel," he continued, "but our soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors are winning over the Iraqi people. I think we're on track to leave behind a free and fledgling democracy when we depart here."

The general said visitors to Iraq come away with a "clear understanding of the dedication and professionalism" of the members of the armed forces they meet. But perhaps more important, he pointed out, is what the Iraqi people think.

"The Iraqi people themselves are starting to realize the quality of the soldiers who are here trying to do this mission," he said. "The future of Iraq will rest not with just the combat capability of all our troops, but (also with) their ability win over the hearts and minds. We're working hard on that, and it's our guys out in the field, like the folks here, that are making that happen."

(Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Gene LaDoucer is assigned to 506th Air Expeditionary Group public affairs.)

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