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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

General Details Security Improvements in Iraq’s Northern Provinces

From Multi-National Force - Iraq:

An Iraqi Soldier flashes the peace sign as he passes the Ballad Ruze city hall in Diyala, Iraq.
Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Paul Seeber.

Monday, 28 July 2008
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD — The security situation in Iraq’s northern provinces has improved, but Iraqi and coalition troops will continue to pursue al-Qaida in Iraq and other criminal groups, the U.S. commander in the region said during a briefing July 27.

Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, the commander of Multinational Division – North, told reporters that the number of security incidents in his area of operations has dropped from more than 2,600 in June 2007 to 650 in June 2008. The numbers for July 2008 continue to show a reduction.

Hertling said Iraqi commanders will launch a major offensive against al-Qaida and criminal gangs in Diyala province next month. U.S. forces will launch a concurrent offensive – Operation Iron Pursuit – against al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists who are seeking sanctuary in the desert.

The success of the surge in Baghdad forced al-Qaida in Iraq to move out of the city mostly to the northern provinces of Diyala, Ninewah and Salah ad Din. These areas became the main battlefield as Coalition, and increasingly, Iraqi forces hunted down the terrorists and killed or captured them. The cities are now “reasonably secure,” Hertling said, and the Iraqi and Coalition forces can shift focus to hunting down al-Qaida and its allies outside the cities.

Other indicators also point to progress, Hertling said. The number of roadside bombs declined by 50 percent since February 2008 from 950 to 430.

“That’s not to say we still don’t have threats,” the general said. Suicide vest attacks and car bombs remain a problem in Diyala and the city of Mosul. On July 24, a woman wearing a suicide vest killed eight Iraqis and wounded 30 others in Baquba. Last month another suicide bomber killed Iraqi police and recruits in the city.

The number of Iraqis killed by terrorists wearing suicide vests has been about 250. Car bombs killed a further 1,500.

“These are random, violent acts conducted by these violent terrorists and that’s why we are not only continuing to go after those who do these things, but the networks that support them,” he said.

Hertling said much remains to be done in the region. “There will be continued operations as long as the Iraqi people are threatened,” he said.

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