Security Still Most Serious Concern for U.S. Forces in Iraq
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 15, 2003 Security is currently the most serious concern of U.S. forces in Iraq, and commanders are taking substantial steps to stem lawlessness, several American officials said today.
Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which is responsible for maintaining the peace in and around Baghdad, said 90 percent of the problems his unit deals with stem from common criminals. The rest comes from attacks by forces loyal to deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, he said in a video teleconference from Baghdad with reporters in the Pentagon.
Also, in a Baghdad news conference today, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, the career diplomat President Bush sent to act as Iraq's civil administrator, noted that shortly before the war began, Hussein released more than 100,000 prisoners in a nationwide amnesty.
"Many of these people were political prisoners, but many of them were common, violent criminals," he said. "It's time the criminals were back in jail, and that's where we'll put them." He added that U.S. forces in Iraq have arrested 300 criminals in the past two days.
Coalition forces are working hard to give authority back to Iraqi police forces. About 7,000 Iraqi police officers have returned to work, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted during a Pentagon press conference today. "And that number should also increase in the days ahead," he said.
Regional commanders are also upping the number of American military police in Iraq. The number of MPs attached to the 3rd Infantry should double to nearly 4,000 soldiers "by the end of the month," Blount said. He mentioned that his MPs were conducting "a few" joint patrols with Baghdad police today.
Division troops are guarding more than 200 separate sites throughout Baghdad and are working diligently to remove weapons and ammunition from the city. Blount described the city as a "big weapons store."
To date, soldiers have removed more than 1,000 truckloads full of weapons, military equipment and ammunition, including more than 35 million rounds of ammunition. "(Baghdad) was scattered with arms and ammo in every school, every vacant lot, and hospitals and houses," he said.
Sixty to 70 truckloads full of weapons and ammunition leave Baghdad every day, and officials estimate it will take about two to three more weeks to finish the job, Blount said.
The general said he has high hopes for a new program he called "Task Force Neighborhood," in which soldiers choose a different Baghdad neighborhood to help out each day. "Every day a neighborhood section will get a full-court press of support that will include garbage pickup, medical assistance, ordnance cleanup, and anything else we can do in a day to help the neighborhoods," he said.
Soldiers hire about 20 to 30 day laborers in each neighborhood to "instill a sense of pride and responsibility" in the local citizens and "give some infusion of money into the neighborhood."
Blount said he hopes the program will help instill "good will between the Iraqi people that we're here trying to help and the American soldiers."
Intermittent power in many Baghdad neighborhoods and other parts of Iraq doesn't help the security situation. As power becomes more dependable in more areas, streetlights will stay on at night, which will help stem some crime problems, Blount said. He added that he hopes removing trash and war debris will help in the overall situation in the city.
During his briefing, Rumsfeld said that he tracks the situation on the ground in 27 metropolitan areas in Iraq. Many of those areas are now better off than they were before fighting began there, he said.
In particular, Bremer mentioned, water quality in Basra is "better than it has been in years," and more Iraqis have access to electricity than they did while Hussein was in power.
"In the next week I think you'll start hearing a much more positive story coming out in reference to security in Baghdad," Blount said.
Coalition forces are also aggressively dealing with holdouts from Hussein's regime. In Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, 4th Infantry Division forces today staged a raid on a Baath party safe house, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the press conference with Rumsfeld.
The general said the soldiers detained "maybe several dozen" people, possibly including a U.S. Central Command "most wanted" Iraqi official.
"We don't know yet," Myers said. "But we're trying to run that down."
Despite the problems, Bremer said, Iraq is "not a country in anarchy."
"People are going about their business. They are going about their lives," he said. "Saddam Hussein was in power for 20 years. His instruments and means of brutality and repression run deep into society and throughout it.
"We have an obligation to the Iraqi people now to build the new Iraq without those instruments."