Welcome to another dose of good news about Iraq. (See here and here for more.) After my last report, I received an avalanche of positive feedback about the story of the bullet-proof cross, requesting more stories like that. So I’ve done that, and at the end of this update there are several more stories about the wonderful men and women in our armed forces.
Colonel John Tully is the officer in charge of security for three Iraqi provinces south of Baghdad. He recently told Voice of America that Iraqi forces will soon be capable enough that the U.S. can begin to drawn down the number of troops in the region:
“I’d say by the time I’m ready to go back to Texas at the end of the year that the Iraqi Army is going to have the lead for any kind of counter-insurgency operations in the three provinces that I’m in, and I’ll be in a support role for them. Clearly, as the Iraqi Army takes over the lead for any kind of counter-insurgency operations I won’t need a complete battalion to work in an area. What I need is just a smaller team. So without a doubt it translates into less troops on the ground, less U.S. troops,” he said.
As proof of their capabilities, Colonel Tully cites the recent Islamic holiday of Arba’een, which takes place in the holy city of Karbala. Security for the holiday was a mostly Iraqi affair, with U.S. troops in support. There were no deaths during the holiday, and only a few minor injuries.
A major theme of my first two updates was that people who actually go to Iraq are far more optimistic about the situation than those who base their opinions only on the reporting of the mainstream media. Governor Kenny Guinn says his belief in what the U.S. is doing in Iraq has been strengthened after a trip there:
Regarding the rampant sectarian violence in Iraq, Guinn said there were “enough out of millions of people that will join together and try to do things you don’t want them to do.”
“We have gangs in America, don’t we?” Guinn said. “And they’re pretty brutal in many of the areas.”
Guinn said he saw major reconstruction and other signs of progress in Baghdad that he didn’t think had been depicted in the news here, adding, “I went there and saw something different that what I had been exposed to.”
Iraqi insurgents, according to Douglas, are most active in four of the country’s 18 provinces. Much of the violence is centered in and around Baghdad, he noted.
“The insurgents are pretty smart … they know where the media are,” Douglas said.
Colorado Senator Ken Salazar is also in Iraq with a bipartisan delegation, and like so many others who have been there, he sees signs of progress:
Salazar said he is hopeful “because I see signs of positive action on the ground, in terms of training of the Iraqi army as well as training of the Iraqi police.”
Senator Jeff Sessions is traveling with Salazar, and expressed optimism about the situation as well.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the situation in Iraq is getting better and that the country is not on the verge of civil war:
“When you have a situation where a country was a dictatorship, and a very brutal one which didn’t allow television reports when people were exterminated and liquidated by Saddam Hussein, when you go from that to being a democracy and you have in the space of 12 months, you have three democratic elections, I don’t think things can be said to be getting worse. I think they can be said to be getting better,” he said.
The son of Iraq’s president spoke in Floriday about the situation in his country. He predicted disaster if U.S. troops leave too soon, and said the situation isn’t as bad as media reports present it:
But I’m here to tell you,” he said, “that not everything happening in Iraq is bad.” The country, he said, is largely stable, with fighting in a handful of areas while most of Iraq functions calmly. Schools and hospitals are opening, he said, and trained Iraqis are fighting terrorists. Plus, the country held three elections in a little more than a year.
Many American media outlets (Yahoo, CBS News, CNN, Fox News) reported that a U.S. air raid killed eleven in the town of Ishaqi; however, the U.S. military is denying the reports:
The U.S. military hit back on Wednesday at what it called a “pattern of misinformation” following Iraqi police accusations that its troops shot dead a family of 11 in their home last week.
President Bush mentioned the Iraqi city of Tall’afar Afar during a speech this week. The mayor of Tall’afar agrees. He recently sent a letter to General Casey thanking U.S. troops for routing the terrorists from his city. This exchange has not been covered by the media, so perhaps you aren’t familiar with it. Here are some excerpts from the mayor’s letter:
Dear General Casey, I don’t need to explain to you the condition of my city since you have full knowledge of our suffering better that any other dignitary in our dear Iraq. By this letter, I wish to bring to your attention the dear position you occupy in the hearts of the Tall’afar people, which all words fall short of explaining.
Dear General, our city was overrun by heartless terrorists, Abu Mus’ab Al Zarqawi and his followers who unloaded their blood thirsty and veracious action of evil on this city for several months by indiscriminately killing men, women and children. At that time, Tall’afar days were all dark. I have seen with my own eyes, fathers holding their sons bleeding to death from injuries inflicted while we could do nothing to help as there was not a drop of life saving blood to be found in the whole city. Tall’afar was a human slaughterhouse.
Iraq has become a tough place to be a member of al Qaeda, and it has been reported that the number al Qaeda members in Iraq is dwindling:
Officials said Iraqi intelligence has assessed that the number of Al Qaida operatives in the country decreased significantly over the last year. They said many of the operatives were killed, captured or returned to their native countries.
“We have information that many members of Al Qaida have returned to their countries,” Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said.
Officials said no more than several hundred Al Qaida operatives were believed to be in Iraq.
A top aide to Zarqawi was captured in eastern Iraq on Thursday. Fares Kadhim Lafi, an Iraqi, was responsible for dozens of attacks, including an attack on a bus that killed nine civilians.
In Baghdad, soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division stopped a kidnapping after receiving a tip from an Iraqi. A suspicious vehicle was pulled over and a kidnapping victim rescued from the trunk of the car.
In Tikrit, a tip from a local led to the discovery of a weapons cache containing 500 rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition.
Operation Northern Lights began on Thursday, in part from information received via tips from Iraqis. The operation has already resulted in the discovery of five weapons caches:
…containing a machinegun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, three AK-47 assault rifles, 2,200 PKC machine gun rounds, two boxes of gunpowder, a RPG rocket, an Iraqi police jacket, 18 106 mm tank rounds, 400 blasting caps, 40 artillery rounds, 17 pressure plate initiators, 20 Motorola radio initiators, and thousands of .50 caliber machine gun rounds.
Iraqi forces killed one terrorist during a firefight. Eighteen terrorists have been detained in the operation, including two “high-value” targets.
During Operation Swarmer a tip from an Iraqi led to the arrest of two and the discovery of a large weapons cache. The weapons cache consisted of “four 55-gallon drums filled with weapons.”
Operation Swarmer ended on the March 22 “without any casualties and with all tactical objectives” having been met. During the operation, more than 100 insurgents were detained and 24 weapons caches discovered. The caches included:
Six shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles
Over 350 mortar rounds and three mortar systems
26 artillery rounds
A variety of IED-making materials and other military items
Over 120 rockets
Over 3200 rounds of small-arms ammunition
86 rocket-propelled grenades and 28 launchers
12 hand grenades and 40 rifle grenades
34 rifles and machineguns of various types
North of Balad, a joint Iraqi and U.S. operation uncovered more weapons, including four shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles:
Iraqi Army and coalition forces also confiscated nine 155 mm artillery rounds, four 122 mm mortar rounds, 27 rocket-propelled grenades, eight RPG launchers, 10 – 57 mm rockets, a .50 caliber machine gun, various types of hand grenades, 50 pounds of explosives and various improvised explosive device making material.
In Anbar Province, Marines have uncovered 500 weapons caches in the last six months.
In the town of Madain, 15 miles south of Baghdad, Iraqi and U.S. troops stopped an assault on a police station. More than sixty insurgents were involved in the attack using mortars, RPG’s, and automatic rifles. Iraqi forces stood their ground and when it was all over 50 of the attackers were in custody.
Iraqi forces in Fallujah were just provided with armored Humvees similar to those of their Marine counterparts:
Iraqi soldiers said through an interpreter, they were pleased with the delivery. They praised the “high technology” and said that with the added protection, they could “destroy the terrorists.”
“We’re very excited,” one Iraqi soldier said. “We can’t wait to go into the city of Fallujah with these cars. The terrorists will be more scared and will take more consideration before attacking.”
The new humvees are more than just better protection for the Iraqis. It’s also a visual reminder of their growing capabilities in the eyes of their own citizens.
“They’re a status symbol,” explained Capt. Jon J. Bonar, a 31-year-old from Los Angeles who serves as the senior logistics advisor to the 1st Iraqi Army Division. “All the soldiers take their picture in from [sic] of the humvees.”
The 9th Iraqi Army Battalion took over responsibility for another nine square miles of battlespace in northern Baghdad:
“The Iraqi Army is getting better every day,” said Col. James Pasquarette, commander of 1st BCT. “They are a capable security force. They impress me because they can gather intelligence from the Iraqi citizen better than we can.”
“They (the Iraqi Army) are motivated and trained to take over the mission. I was really impressed,” said Capt. Lou Castillo, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, STB, 1st BCT. “They are a ready and trained force.”
In an area of Anbar Province called “The Triad,” members of the Iraqi 7th Army operated independently for the first time:
Iraqi soldiers planned, rehearsed, and executed the mission entirely on their own. A Military Transition Team (MTT)–a group of Coalition servicemembers assigned to logistically assist and guide each Iraqi military unit’s transition to independent operations – accompanied the Iraqi soldiers to advise them during the operation.
This operation is another example of the continuing progress Iraqi Army units are making toward eventually assuming control of areas of Iraq, independent of Coalition forces.
The operation was part of Raging Bull. The Iraqi soldiers were pleased with the results:
Iraqi soldiers are pleased with the success of the independent operation.
“All the soldiers are very happy to be able to do this operation because it is our one chance to prove we can do our duty alone,” said Iraqi Army Sgt. Q’ter al-Raheed, a platoon noncommissioned officer with 2nd Bn., 2nd Brigade.
Iraqis now control a considerable amount of battle space in Iraq:
Two divisions, 13 brigades and 49 battalions of the Iraqi army and two brigades and six battalions of the national police are responsible for their own battlespace, Dempsey said. By July, Iraqi security forces will be responsible for security along all 3,631 kilometers of Iraq’s borders, he added.
Much of the battlespace the Iraqis are responsible for is in secured areas or those with small populations. Dempsey pointed out that 50 percent of Baghdad is controlled by Iraqi forces and by the end of the year, when Iraqis control 75 percent of the country, much of that will include heavily populated and dangerous areas.
This week, 196 Iraqis graduated from the Baghdad Police Academy. One graduate made his resolve clear:
“There is no difference between Sunni and Shia, we are all Iraqis. One thing we learned at the police academy is that we must work as one family to win against the insurgency,” said a police graduate.