Friday, December 30, 2005

Baghdad Grows While Insurgency Weakens, U.S. General Says

-good news from Iraq!

By Gerry J. GilmoreAmerican Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2005 – Burgeoning reconstruction activity is now evident in and around Baghdad while terrorist attacks in the Iraqi capital city have weakened since the Dec. 15 elections, a senior U.S. military officer in Baghdad told reporters here today.

"When I fly around Baghdad these days, I see the city expanding in large numbers of houses being built on the edges of the city in nearly every direction," Army Maj. Gen. William G. Webster Jr., commander of Multinational Division Baghdad, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite news conference broadcast from Iraq.

This activity, Webster said, indicates Baghdad's residents have faith both in their rejuvenating economy and for the future.

Baghdad's municipal sewer and water services also have improved, Webster said, since his unit took over security duty for the city and surrounding region from the 1st Cavalry Division on Feb. 27. Webster is also the commanding general of the U.S. Army's 3th Infantry Division based out of Fort Stewart, Ga.

The military contingent under Webster's command, known as Task Force Baghdad, consists of around 30,000 troops including soldiers from Estonia, Georgia and Macedonia, as well as about 19,000 troops from the 3rd Infantry Division and other U.S. elements.

"Our mission was to improve the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, fight the insurgency, to secure Baghdad and the surrounding areas, and support the (Iraqi) government's development," Webster said.

Over the past year, the number of Iraqi soldiers and police in Baghdad has increased 10-fold, Webster said. Today, soldiers of the Iraqi 6th Division and Iraqi special police are providing stability and law and order across 60 percent of Baghdad, the general said. A year ago, he said, there was only one Iraqi army battalion in Baghdad.

"And now there are 22 (Iraqi battalions) in Baghdad," Webster said, "with 12 of them in charge of their own areas of operations." The Iraqi 6th Division in Baghdad boasts six brigades, he said.
Large numbers of Baghdad's citizens felt secure enough to cast their ballots during the Dec. 15 election, Webster said, noting 60 percent or more of the city's registered voters went to the polls.

Iraqi security forces, supported by coalition troops, provided that security prior to and during the elections, Webster said. Task Force Baghdad troops and Iraqi security forces teamed up to conduct almost 2,500 different combat operations since Oct. 1, Webster said, and detained more than 3,600 insurgents over the course of more than 52,000 patrols.

"The pace of our operations, while intense, has disrupted the enemy and reduced car bombs by half," Webster said. U.S., Iraqi and coalition troops in the area are finding half of the terrorist-emplaced roadside bombs, he said, and there's been a 92-percent increase in the discovery of enemy weapons caches.

"This has put a big dent in the ability of the insurgents to continue to conduct operations," Webster said, noting that aggressive operations against the terrorists will go on.

Tremendous gains have been made against terrorists in the Baghdad area, Webster said, noting only about 10 percent of recent terrorist attacks have caused damage, injury or death. Iraqi, U.S. and coalition troops, Webster said, have disrupted the enemy's ability to effectively use car bombs and improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs.

"We have disrupted that ability so that they're now conducting more drive-by shootings which usually don't hit anybody, or they're shooting indirect fire - mortars and rockets - which also is mostly unsuccessful," Webster said.

In short, "the insurgency has weakened since the (Dec. 15) elections," Webster said.
Yet, there likely will be continued terrorist violence, he said, until the new Iraqi government is seated and its security forces are fully trained and deployed.

Webster said his command's goal is to transfer full responsibility for security in Baghdad over to Iraqi security forces.

"Conditions are being set to allow the Iraqis to run and secure their own country," Webster said.
Webster said his unit is slated to return to the United States over the next 30 days after having served a one-year tour of duty in Iraq. The 3rd Infantry Division also was deployed to Iraq in 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and it played a prominent role in the seizure of Baghdad from Saddam Hussein's forces.

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