The U.S. commander of the multi-national corps in Iraq says violence in the country has decreased consistently over the past three months. As VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno also said that al-Qaida in Iraq is losing some of its capability to conduct attacks, and it is losing support among the Iraqi people.
Speaking to reporters at the National Press Club Tuesday General Odierno said the decreased violence is especially encouraging now because the past several years have seen a spike in attacks in the run-up to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He said there was some increased violence last week, but overall, signs of normalcy are beginning to reappear in Iraq.
"Violence throughout the country has dropped to a level not even seen before the first bombing of the Golden Mosque in 2006," he said.
Figures compiled by the Iraqi and U.S. governments show that the death toll for Iraqi citizens fell sharply in September to a total of some 827 civilians. This was close to a 50 percent drop from August. The number of U.S. soldiers killed was also down in September, to a total of at least 66.
General Odierno who is responsible for command and control of military operations in Iraq said the surge this year of some 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq means that U.S. forces now have the ability to maintain strategic gains, and this is having an impact on al-Qaida and other insurgents.
"Al-Qaida in Iraq has lost significant capability and they are no longer able to conduct the attacks, the number of attacks that they once were. They still conduct attacks, but not at the levels that they had been in the past. And it has to do with our ability to eliminate safe havens that were in and around Baghdad," he said.
The general said it is equally important that the Iraqi civilian population has rejected al-Qaida because of its foreign leadership, its Taleban-like methods and its brutal targeting of civilians. He said to further decrease the violence, it is now up to the Iraqi government to step up and provide basic services for its people.
"It's now about basic services. We now need to start to improve the basic services. If we can do that, I think we will see a tipping point," he said.
The main issue, he said, is the distribution of electricity and fuel throughout the country. General Odierno also cautioned that U.S. forces in Iraq have not yet achieved what he calls "irreversible momentum", and he said transferring authority to Iraqi security forces must proceed slowly.