Forces Continue to Keep al-Qaida Off-Balance, Admiral Says
By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2008 An operation near Iraq’s Diyala River Valley -- planned and led by Iraqi forces with coalition support -- is going very well, a senior coalition spokesman said yesterday.
“The main objective there is the pursuit of al-Qaida … to remove them from their hideouts there, and continue to keep them off-balance,” Navy Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, deputy chief of the strategic communication division for Multinational Force Iraq, said to online journalists and bloggers in a teleconference.
About 30,000 troops are involved in this major operation, which has resulted in the detention of at least 30 to 35 suspected al-Qaida members and uncovered weapons caches, Driscoll said.
While operations in Diyala continue, Iraqi security forces also are engaged in Baghdad’s Sadr City district and in the cities of Basra, Amarah, and Mosul, Driscoll added.
“Mosul is a piece of valuable real estate for al-Qaida,” the admiral said. “They want to hold on to Mosul, because it’s their entryway to Syria, and it facilitates a lot of the flow of foreign fighters and money to finance al-Qaida.”
Another piece of real estate al-Qaida covets is Iraq’s Anbar province. The al-Qaida threat continues there, but the Iraqi army and border patrol police, along with U.S. Marines, are securing the province’s borders. “In Anbar, there’s still a viable, lethal al-Qaida threat,” Driscoll said, “and that is really the focus of the security forces out there.”
While operations continue, the Iraqi security forces are in the process of expanding. About 580,000 people now serve in the country’s scurity forces; the Iraqi police have about 380,000, and the Iraqi army has about 200,000. By next year, the stated goal for the Iraqi security forces 660,000 members, Driscoll said.
A couple of good indicators suggest things are moving in the right direction in Iraq, the admiral said.
“One is the continued successful pursuit of al-Qaida,” he explained. “That’s a key security issue that we can’t take our eye off and [that we have] got to continue to focus on. Another one would be the structured continued process of turning over security for provinces to the Iraqi government. That would be a good thing to watch, and we’re making good progress on that.”
Driscoll noted that violent incidents in Iraq have reached the lowest level since 2004, facilitating progress toward elections later this year.
“That’s very encouraging, the progress we’re seeing right now,” he said. “Five hundred and sixty-five voter registration centers are open; people are registering to vote.”
While the provincial elections currently scheduled for Oct. 1, Parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashadani has scheduled a special meeting of lawmakers Aug. 3 to resolve an election legislation impasse.
“I am very encouraged by the fact that Speaker Mashadani has called them in,” Driscoll said. “They’re going to wrestle with it on Sunday. All parties, really, I think, have an interest in solving this now, because as they move forward with the elections and as they move forward with solving the Kirkuk issue, … it’s going to be very beneficial to the country in terms of moving forward economic development.”
Driscoll added that officials are taking a wait-and-see approach on possible disruptions in the elections.
“The people are, by and large, rejecting the violence, whether it’s al-Qaida or [Iranian-backed] special groups -- this indiscriminate violence that’s killing innocent Iraqis,” he said. “The Iraqis have really out of hand rejected that, and are not supporting any elements that really participated in that.”
He acknowledged that while security is improving and progress definitely is being made in Iraq, threats still exist, but he repeated that trends are moving in the right direction.
“It’s very encouraging time, now that we’re kind of shifting into the political [and] economical development phase of the counterinsurgency,” he said.
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works in the New Media Directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)