March 9th, 2007 06:39 EST
Rekindling Hope in Baghdad
BAGHDAD — The commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq discussed his first month on the job at a press conference at the Combined Press Information Center in the International Zone here Thursday.
U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commanding general of MNF-I, provided an update and spoke about some impressions of his activities since assuming command in February.
“We are, in any event, still in the early days of this endeavor: an endeavor that will take months, not days or weeks, to fully implement, and one that will have to be sustained to achieve its desired effect,” said Petraeus.
One major event Petraeus commented on was Operation “Fardh Al-Qanoon,” an ongoing operation several weeks into its initial stages.
“Iraqi and Coalition forces are steadily building their strength to support the operation in Baghdad,” he said. “This buildup will continue throughout the spring, with all U.S. and Iraqi forces dedicated to the mission in place by early June.”
The buildup of military strength wasn’t the only effort made in support of Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon.
“A complimentary effort will be carried out on the civilian side in the form of a joint Department of State/Department of Defense initiative to double the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq from 10 to 20,” said Petraeus. “These PRTs will draw on civilian and military expertise to help Iraqis build capacity in the provinces and support local initiatives.”
Petraeus also pointed out a few encouraging signs of the operation in progress.
“While it is too early to discern significant trends, there has been a few encouraging signs,” he said. “Sectarian killings have been lower in Baghdad over the past several weeks, and there also appears to have been less sectarian displacement in the past month.
“In fact, some families have returned to the neighborhoods from which they were displaced, although in small numbers so far,” he said.
Petraeus also pointed out the amount of extremists and weapons caches intercepted last month.
“Iraqi and Coalition forces have uncovered stockpiles of explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) in Diyala province and in Baghdad with 96 weapons caches found in the Multi-National Division-Baghdad area alone in the past two weeks,” he said. “Additionally, two major car bomb factories have been destroyed on the outskirts of Baghdad.
“Hundreds of extremists have captured or killed, including some mid-level members of al-Qaeda in Iraq and other extremists groups, and we have destroyed several trucks equipped with heavy machine guns used for engaging our aircraft,” he continued, listing feats accomplished in the past few weeks.
Petraeus also spoke of improvement in areas beyond Baghdad and a breakthrough in moving forward in legislation.
“A number of tribes in the al-Anbar province have in recent months finally said, ‘enough,’ and begun to link arms against extremist operatives,” Petraeus said.
“Meanwhile, Iraqi leaders have moved forward on the draft National Hydrocarbon Law, which treats Iraq’s petroleum revenues as a national asset to be shared equitably among Iraq’s provinces and regions,” he said. “The government of Iraq has made several budgetary advances as well.”
Petraeus also commented on the recent attacks on schools, health clinics, and marketplaces.
“Coalition and Iraqi Soldiers and Police have had some tough days, [but] will work together to reduce [the number of extremists and attacks] in the months ahead, recognizing some sensational attacks inevitably will continue to take place,” he said.
“We [the Coalition] and our Iraqi partners recognize that improving security for the Iraqi people is the first step in rekindling hope,” he added. “As citizens feel safer, conditions will be set for the resumption and improvement of basic services.”
“If we can do this, and I believe we can, then the Iraqi government will have the chance it needs to resolve some of the difficult issues it faces,” Petraeus said. “The people of Iraq will finally enjoy what they so richly deserve after years of hardship: a just government who truly serves all Iraqis.”
(Story by Spc. Carl N. Hudson, Combined Press Information Center.)