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Iraqi Citizens, Security Forces Spark Phantom Phoenix Success

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2008 – Operation Phantom Phoenix is succeeding in cracking down on Iraq's enemies, largely because of the Iraqi security forces’ professionalism and the cooperation of the Iraqi people, a senior U.S. military officer said in Baghdad today.

Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, told reporters the joint offensive launched earlier this month continues to make headway in corralling remaining al-Qaeda-aligned terrorists and other insurgents in the country.

“One of the reasons progress has been made and continues to be made in Iraq is the increasing courage of the Iraqi people as they reject violence from their neighborhoods, work more closely with security forces and place themselves in harm’s way to help secure their communities,” Bergner said.

That’s led to big improvements, he said, with Iraqi security forces and coalition troops now clearing more than half of all improvised explosive devices across Iraq, and more than 60 percent in some areas. “This progress is due to improving technology, better training by Iraqi security forces and, most of all, because of the help of brave Iraqi citizens who are working with our forces and the Iraqi security forces,” he said.

Bergner emphasized the importance of Iraqi cooperation. “Iraqi citizens are not just reporting IEDs, but also phoning in tips, walking into local joint security stations to provide actionable intelligence and working with their security forces in ways not seen a year ago,” he said. “They are directly enabling progress that we are seeing in Operation Phantom Phoenix.”

On Jan. 28, for example, coalition forces operating east of Tikrit used such a tip to capture an al Qaeda operative involved in arming terrorists, moving foreign fighters and acting as an interrogator during terrorist kidnappings, Bergner said. Yesterday, they caught an insurgent in Baqouba who was associated with a suicide bomb network in Diyala province.

“The collective weight of these operations and many others like them disrupt the terrorist networks and improve security conditions,” he said.

That’s leading to other progress, including the reopening of roads once plagued by bombs and terror attacks, he said.

Bergner noted that a key roadway linking northern and southern Baqouba reopened Jan. 28, thanks to joint Iraqi security force and coalition force efforts. “A once-violent thoroughfare returned to the use of the people that need it,” he said. “Farmers can again move their produce, children can reach their schools and families can travel.”

Throughout these operations, Iraqi security forces are increasingly forming the first line of defense, Bergner said, noting that Iraqi forces are now better equipped and prepared to provide security.

Army Maj. Gen. Mohammad al-Askari, spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Defense, noted the sea change that’s occurred within Iraq’s military. He said that during 2003 and 2004, Iraqis fought behind the multinational forces. In 2006, they worked side by side with the coalition. “Now,” he said, “we are fighting in front of them, and we are taking the leadership in conducting operations.”

As they step up, Iraqi forces also are experiencing higher casualties – sometimes triple those of coalition troops. Bergner pointed to recent attacks on Iraqi police chiefs and the fact that 13,000 Iraqis didn’t allow this to deter them from joining the police force during January alone. “Iraqi leaders are pressing the fight and showing enormous courage, and others are joining their ranks,” he said.

Bergner cited solid forward momentum within Iraq’s Ministry of Defense as it carries out multiple missions simultaneously: building institutional capabilities and processes, integrating new equipment and technologies, recruiting and training new soldiers, and fighting terrorists while expanding security for the Iraqi people.

“There is still much work under way in all the security ministries to professionalize the force, increase accountability and expand technical capabilities,” he said. But, “Iraqi army soldiers are better trained, equipped and prepared to provide security for the Iraqi people.”

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