Progress in Iraq Real, Momentum Growing, Odierno Says
WASHINGTON - Coalition and Iraqi troops are creating security in Iraq, and life is returning to normal for the vast majority of Iraqi citizens. But the momentum is not irreversible, the commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq said Nov. 1.
Coalition and Iraqi troops have been able to break the cycle of violence in the country, and all trends are positive, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told Pentagon reporters via teleconference from his headquarters at Camp Victory, Iraq.
When the Army's 3rd Corps arrived in Baghdad a year ago, Iraq was enmeshed in sectarian violence. Al-Qaida in Iraq was launching daily deadly attacks, and al-Qaida and Shiite groups had sanctuaries from which they could plan and launch attacks.
The surge of U.S. troops into Iraq was the solution. Beginning in January, five brigades of American troops came into Iraq and ripped the initiative away from extremist groups. The surge was meant as a way to protect the Iraqi people and to give the Iraqi government the time and space it needed to take control, Odierno said.
It has done that. Since the full measure of troops arrived in Iraq in June, "we have achieved some momentum," Odierno said. "Although it is not irreversible momentum, this positive momentum has set the conditions for political accommodation, economic development and for basic services to progress."
Phantom Thunder was the first corps-level operations to flex this new power. Launched in June, the operation targeted al-Qaida and extremist groups in, near and around Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi forces worked together closely in this operation, and the increase in troops allowed the coalition to hold area once it has been seized. The surge also allowed the coalition and the Iraqi government to bring needed services into the towns and villages, Odierno said.
"We have been able to eliminate key safe havens, liberate portions of the population, and hamper the enemy's ability to conduct coordinated attacks," he said.
In the four months of the surge, Iraq has seen security get better. "I believe that continued aggressive operations by both coalition and Iraqi forces are the most effective way to extend our gains and continue to protect the citizens of Iraq," the general said.
Over the past four months, attacks of all kinds have declined, which illustrates the success of the surge, he said. Particularly significant was that the decline continued through the holy month of Ramadan – a time when attacks spiked in years past, Odierno said.
Total attack levels are where they were before the Samarra Golden Mosque bombing in February 2006, the event that ignited increased sectarian violence in the country. The general compared statistics on violence from the past week in 2006 to those of 2007. In that week in 2006, more than 300 attacks took place in Anbar province alone. This past week, the number of attacks was 30. In and around Baghdad, the number of attacks in the last week of 2006 was 143. Last week it was under 100.
"While we are encouraged by these positive trends, we are not satisfied, and we will continue to work to reduce them," Odierno said.
Improvised-explosive-device detonations are at their lowest levels since October 2004 and continue on a downward trend, the general said. Iraqi civilian deaths are down from 3,000 a month in Dec. 2006 to fewer than 1,000 in October. Finally, the number of coalition troops killed and wounded in Iraq was down for the fifth month in a row.
"Nothing is more important to any of us than the lives of our courageous service men and women," Odierno said. "Even one coalition death is too many, but we are experiencing a five-month decline in combat deaths. While this is encouraging, we will not be satisfied until we drive this to zero."
The coalition has to keep training Iraqi security forces, Odierno said. Qualitative and quantitative gains in the Iraqi army and police are a pillar in taking down extremist groups and in maintaining security in cleared areas. "The Iraqi security forces are building the trust and confidence of the Iraqi people and are dedicated to defending their safety as well as their country," he said.
And the Iraqi people themselves are a huge force in the movement against extremist groups, the general added. "There's a clear rejection of al Qaeda and other extremists by large segments of the population," he said. "This is coupled with the bottom-up awakening movement by Sunni and Shiia who want a chance to reconcile with the government of Iraq."
Trends on attacks are good, but how people feel is a better measure of improvements in security, Odierno said.
"Whenever I travel around Iraq, people come up to me and tell me how much safer they feel in the neighborhoods," he said. "This perception is real and has been enhanced by volunteers coming forward to work with us and by the general public giving us information on terrorists and criminals."