June 28th, 2007 05:05 EST
U.S. officials highlight progress in Iraq?
BAGHDAD — U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq and Daniel Speckhard, Charge D’Affaires to the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad, held a press conference Wednesday at the Combined Press Information Center.
Bergner began the conference by condemning Monday’s attack at the al-Mansour Hotel, which killed 13 Iraqis and wounded 17 others.
“This attack on Iraqis who sought peace and reconciliation is an affront to all people and further proof of the barbaric nature of al-Qaeda,” he said.
Bergner explained his belief that the attack was definitely carried out by al-Qaeda operatives.
“There is no basis of evidence to support some of the earlier speculation that this was other than an al-Qaeda attack,” he said. “In fact, they have since publicly claimed responsibility for the attack.”
Despite the tragedy at al-Mansour, Bergner noted it was a productive week for Coalition forces. Multi-National Corps-Iraq are on day 12 of Operation Phantom Thunder, a Coalition offensive in and around Baghdad.
Bergner said the operation is moving forward, but real progress will take time.
“It will not be like turning on a light switch,” he said. “It will be more gradual, and it will occasionally come with setbacks.”
Bergner highlighted several recent accomplishments, including an operation on Saturday south of Hawija in the al-Tamin province where Coalition forces killed two senior al-Qaeda leaders. One helped smuggle insurgents into Iraq for al-Qaeda operations. The other leader was a courier for the same al-Qaeda cell and was a close associate to other senior leaders within al-Qaeda.
Bergner also praised the work of Iraqi security forces and Coalition forces in Baqubah. They discovered a house used for executions and an illegal prison Monday. Days earlier, Coalition forces discovered a torture chamber and an illegal courthouse linked to al-Qaeda. Soldiers also recently discovered a medical clinic for terrorists nearby.
Coalition forces discovered a large stockpile of rocket-propelled grenades and other munitions. A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device was also discovered outside. The amount of insurgent activity and close proximity to each other implies al-Qaeda was planning on using Baquba as a stronghold, Bergner said.
“This array of facilities is an example of how the enemy seeks to consolidate and create an operating base from which they can conduct attacks on the local population and launch spectacular attacks into Baghdad,” he said. “It is further evidence of the importance of applying pressure simultaneously in and around Baghdad to remove extremist safe havens and operating bases.”
Bergner praised the efforts of Iraqi forces in securing the streets of Iraq as well as their nation’s future.
“Iraqi forces are very much in the fight,” he said. “They are increasingly the first line of defense while taking casualties at rates of two to three times that of the Coalition, and they are not deterred in their mission.”
Bergner turned the conference over to Speckhard, who will soon depart Iraq. Bergner thanked him publicly for his nearly two years of service to the people of Iraq. Speckhard then highlighted efforts to “promote security, stability and a return to prosperity in Iraq.”
Speckhard spoke of strengthened efforts beyond the International Zone, focusing on building and supporting moderates at local levels in Iraq, improving security to support the Iraqi government and to decrease unemployment particularly amongst young people in Iraq.
“What I’ve seen over the past few months is significant progress in each of these areas, not without challenges, not without problems but really significant progress,” he said.
(U.S. Army story by Sgt. Matthew McLaughlin, Combined Press Information Center)