THE WAR IN IRAQ is an important part of the war against terrorism, or, as we're calling it now, the GWARI (Global War Against Radical Islam). What happens in Iraq is crucial to the overall success or failure of the West to defend itself against attacks from Islamic fundamentalists.
You have an important role to play in this effort. What you say to your friends can change their minds, even if only slowly, and even if only partially. That may be enough, and as Edmund Burke said, "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little."
With that in mind, below are some excerpts from a recent briefing on Iraq with Major General Joseph Fil. Some of this might be covered by major news networks, but all you're going to get is a sentence or two with a negative mainstream spin.
By reading this, you'll know more about what's going on in Iraq than your friends, and you'll be able to inform them in your conversations.
Here are the excerpts:
As General Petraeus mentioned in his recent address to Congress, we've made significant progress on the security front since the troop surge began earlier this year. The Baghdad neighborhoods where our forces are located are safer than they have been in a very long time, and our Iraqi security force partners have made great strides as well. We've had some tough days battling al Qaeda and criminal militia, but here in the Multinational Division Baghdad we keep pounding away at our enemy, pushing him daily, and we've seen positive results from our persistent pressure.
The people of Baghdad have grown tired of the violence brought on by terrorist groups and criminal militiamen. They've started banding together in the neighborhoods on both sides of the Tigris River to reconcile themselves to the duly elected Iraqi government and to put an end to the senseless violence and lawlessness. They're volunteering to work with the government, instead of against it, for the betterment of all.
And across the Iraqi capital, reconciliation efforts, led by our soldiers and leaders and the grassroots level, are starting to bear fruit. There are currently almost 8,000 Iraqi security volunteers employed in various just across the city. These volunteers are predominantly young men who have emerged from areas previously dominated by al Qaeda and other resistance groups.
Yesterday over 700 of these volunteers graduated from the Baghdad Police College, and next week 800 more will graduate from training at a facility near Abu Ghraib and enter into the Iraqi police service. Now, these brave volunteers are seeking to help rout out al Qaeda and criminal militias and to enter a career in law enforcement to make an honest living.
In many areas in around Baghdad, these volunteers are being integrated with, trained — integrated with and trained by Iraqi security forces on checkpoints, and in many cases they're conducting coordinated operations side by side with them. And we're seeing very positive impacts on local security where this partnership occurs.
These partnerships are yet another step forward in the effort to bring down the levels of violence and to protect the population by involving the population. Attacks are down in the city. The temporary barriers we've emplaced around markets and the densely populated areas have caused the terrorist attacks to be less lethal over the past months and allowed life to grow inside the barriers. Baghdad currently has the lowest level of attacks within the 10 security districts since we first arrived here more than 10 months ago.
Since Fard al-Qanun began back in mid-February, there's been more than a 50 percent reduction in overall attacks per week. Small arms fire attacks are half of what they were in February. The number of car bombs per week is well under half of when this operation began, and the ones that do detonate are much much less lethal than they were initially. Likewise, mortar and rocket attacks have declined by way more than 50 percent in the same period. We've also seen a steep overall decline in the number of IED (improvised explosive device) detonations and a corresponding increase in the number found prior to detonation. I believe that these trends indicate that our arrests of key IED cell members, combined with an increased ability to find IED caches, is having an overall impact on the enemy's ability to build and use these murderous weapons of terror.
Q General, hi. It's David Cloud with The New York Times. In the past in speaking to us you've given us a breakdown of your assessment of the Baghdad neighborhoods and whether they're cleared, held, retained — and there's one more category which escapes me at the moment. Can you run through that again with us, or what the status of those are now, and just give us a sense of your rough timetable for moving into the latter categories?
GEN. FIL: Yeah, thanks. I can, and I'll just run through them. The the four categories that we track as we progress through the evolution of security in the city is, first of all, disruption, then clearance, followed by a control phase, and then finally, retain, which is the one in which Iraqi security forces are primarily in the lead.
We started off with 70 percent of them in disruption, and about 21 percent of them in clearance last February. We're now down to about 16 percent in disruption and about 30 percent that remain in clearance. But the number in control and retain now are, of the 474 muhallas in Baghdad, well over 250 of them are in control and retain, some 56 percent.
We are at a point where we've been working very hard in the south of Baghdad, so in general there continues to be progress there. Again, we're in a very tough fight down in east Rashid, in the southern portion of Baghdad. That has been very successful recently, although it's been a long, tough fight. We have reduced al Qaeda down to where they are dug in in several neighborhoods. And that fight continues, and I expect areas of both west and east Rashid to transition from the clearance phase to the control phase as this force is reduced down to this relatively small pocket and as the security forces down there are strengthened and we actually go into the next phase.
Q General, this is Anna Mulrine with U.S. News and World Report.
I'm just wondering, what do you feel like is the toughest part of what you're doing in Baghdad today? What's your biggest challenge right now in the city?
GEN. FIL: I'm sorry, would you repeat the question, please?
Q I'm just wondering what your — what you feel like your biggest challenge in the city right now is. What's the toughest thing you're facing in Baghdad right now?
GEN. FIL: It continues to be the IEDs that are the — really the biggest threat to our soldiers. They're the biggest killer. It's a very tough weapon to find because there are many ways to disguise them, even putting them into concrete and simulating the curb from the side of the road. So we're working very hard against these, not only against them when we find them, but against the networks that are putting them in there and those networks that supply them. So that continues to be the main effort, frankly, offensively.
And I do think we've had, you know, huge progress. The numbers of these IEDs continue to come down and their effectiveness, and now we're finding many more of them than are actually being used against us. But it's still a challenge, and it's the number one killer of soldiers over here.
Q General, Julian Barnes from the Los Angeles Times here. I was wondering if you could tell us about the willingness of local police to move against militias in their neighborhood, particularly these local volunteers that you spoke of. Are they willing to take actions against entrenched militias?
GEN. FIL: They've been — well, first of all, these forces — we're not using them offensively, and so they are — right now they are to serve as security volunteers, and they are helping us to keep people out and to serve — the militias out and to serve as an early warning network in coordination with the police and the coalition forces and the Iraqi army forces that are in these neighborhoods. But we are not right now using them offensively to actually fight against al Qaeda or militias in the cities.
And to answer your question, are they willing to? Yes, they are, and they want to. And as they are eventually incorporated into the Iraqi security forces, whether it be the police, the Iraqi, you know, Police Service, the national police or the Iraqi army, we'll certainly use them that way.
And we are currently in the process of, as I mentioned earlier, of training them. And right now there are almost 8,000 of these volunteers in the greater Baghdad area who have signed up to join the security forces. And as we go through the process of vetting them, of ensuring that they are in fact the right kind of soldiers, policemen — national policemen that the nation needs, they'll indeed be incorporated.
But right now they're providing a huge amount of help in identifying cells, giving us tips as to their location, intelligence as to when they're starting to enter the areas, and providing early warning.
Q If I could follow up. You talked about bringing more Iraqi security forces, strengthening those. Do you anticipate, as the battlefield geometry changes and units are not needed from other parts of Iraq, that you would request more U.S. forces be brought into Baghdad to help with the security there? Is that something that you would see as desirable?
GEN. FIL: Well, of course no division commander ever is satisfied that he has enough forces, and we do believe in overwhelming combat power. And in this theater, combat power is certainly measured by boots on the ground. But at this point I do not have plans to ask for more soldiers. I feel that the soldiers that we have here are adequate for the job. We're being very successful in moving the city through these phases, as I said. Security is certainly on the rise in the city. The level of violence is way, way down. And perhaps more significantly, the ability of the Iraqi security forces to control their own neighborhoods, their own areas as they stand side by side with American forces and, in fact, as they take the lead is growing.
Q General Fil, this is Jamie McIntyre with CNN. You mentioned the IED threats. I'm just curious how many of the MRAPs, (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) you have, how many more you need, and do you think they make a big difference in the U.S. casualty rate in your area of responsibility?
GEN. FIL: We have not — although we have RC-31s and some of the route clearance equipment that we've had, you know, for some time here, and it's very effective, we in the 1st Cavalry Division, Multinational Division-Baghdad have not yet received the MRAPs. We do expect to be getting it shortly, and one of our districts is a priority for General Odierno and the allocation of these. And so we do expect to be receiving them shortly.
I think they're going to be hugely effective, frankly, and they're, you know, specifically designed for the threats that we currently face here and for the threat that we believe we'll be facing for the foreseeable future here in Baghdad and in Iraq, and that is these deep-buried IEDs and the IEDs that — with the shape charges, the EFPs, that are just so very lethal.
So I believe they're going to be hugely effective, and I think that the accelerated program upon which we've embarked to get them here as quickly as we can will be very helpful to protecting soldiers and making us more effective.
Q General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. General, how can U.S. and coalition troops retain most of Baghdad after the troop levels draw down to pre-surge levels?
GEN. FIL: What the surge of coalition forces has allowed us to do in Baghdad is to go to not only hold areas that we've been working very hard in, to control them, but to go into areas that we were frankly not in any strength in before and get them cleared and then build up the security forces so they can move into control. And so I would expect by the time we begin this reduction of security forces from the surge, which is about two-and-a-half brigades worth of soldiers if you add up all the battalion equivalents here in the Baghdad area, that we'll be well past the time when we needed them to do this expansion.
So I feel that, you know, frankly, the timing of the surge was probably optimal. I'll also say that having troops here for the 15 months that we've had them has also been very helpful, not only for our forces, the 1st Cavalry Division and the forces that we started with, but for the surge forces who were coming through as well.
So I'm confident that the timing on it is appropriate and that as these forces begin to draw down, the security forces — the Iraqi security forces will be sufficiently strong, that they'll be able to take these regions from control and into retain.