A U.S. military commander in Baghdad says significant progress is being made in reducing attacks against security forces and civilians in the Iraqi capital since a large-scale operation was launched several weeks ago. Army Colonel Robert Scurlock made the remarks during a teleconference from Baghdad.
Colonel Scurlock says his soldiers arrived in Baghdad from Kuwait in late July to join with Iraqi police and army forces as part of Operation Forward Together. That action was ordered by Iraq's new prime minister after a spike in sectarian violence left thousands of people dead in the worst bloodshed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Scurlock says his troops from the First Armored Division have been sweeping through neighborhoods in a 300-square kilometer section of western Baghdad that is home to more than one million Iraqis.
Colonel Scurlock says since the operation began, violent attacks on civilians, Iraqi security forces and coalition troops have dropped more than 40 percent across Baghdad.
"It is an attempt to get the Iraqis in the lead, in charge of security where they can do it independent of the coalition forces. That is where we are headed and I think it is taking effect," he said. "It is having a definite change and you can see it across Baghdad."
Colonel Scurlock says in his section of Baghdad about 3,500 coalition forces have joined 5,000 Iraqi soldiers to track down insurgents responsible for the violence.
He says while significant progress is being made, there are still major threats from terrorists aligned with al-Qaida in Iraq, Sunni rejectionist groups, Shi'ite death squads and criminals.
"For example, two days ago we were conducting one of these meetings, made tremendous progress, laid out a plan for the road ahead and then on the way home we had the head of the district advisory council receive threatening phone calls and we had an assassination attempt on another one of the members. So these courageous people are doing everything they can to provide for the Iraqi people and it is those terrorists and death squads that are trying to deprive the Iraqi people of a safe and secure environment," he said.
Colonel Scurlock adds that in those neighborhoods where his troops are patrolling, Iraqi citizens are gaining more confidence in the police and there is a growing trust that they can provide security.
The colonel says a continuing problem is that in some cases insurgent groups have infiltrated the local police, but he says the Iraqi government is working actively to root out internal corruption within the ranks of its security forces.