Update on Baghdad security

On Sunday, Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero of the Joint Staff assessed the security situation in Baghdad in light of ongoing operations. It contains positives you won't read about in the MSM.   
Our top priority in Iraq continues to be our support for the Baghdad security plan, Fard al-Qanun, designed to provide security and reduce violence to levels that will allow the Iraqi leadership to make political progress. As I mentioned last week, this plan will require a sustained commitment over time, and while it is still too early to identify trends, we continue to see some early positive indicators, and I would like to share a few of those with you. 

Operation Fard al-Qanun has been ongoing for approximately six weeks. In comparison to the six-week period immediately preceding the start of this operation, over all across Iraq sectarian violence remains at reduced levels. Attacks against civilians are down by about 20 percent, and civilian deaths are down by about 30 percent. Specifically in Baghdad, comparing the same six-week periods, attacks against civilians are down by 20 percent, with civilian deaths down by about 50 percent. Also, EFP or explosively formed projectile attacks nationwide are down from about 38 attacks in December to 22 in March. The average of daily attacks in Al Anbar province has also dropped over the past month. 

However, recent data shows the enemy continues to adapt and remains lethal. Regrettably, attacks against -- attack levels against coalition forces have remained constant. 

High-profile attacks, especially suicide vests and vehicle attacks, have increased by about 30 percent, but the effectiveness of these high-profile attacks continues to be below pre-Fard al-Qanun levels. We assess this decreased effectiveness of high-profile attacks to be the result of increased and more effective security.   

The Iraqi government continues their firm commitment to unimpeded security operations. As an example of this, Iraqi and U.S. forces recently captured the al-Khazaali brothers, key leaders in a Shi'a extremist cell that has been responsible for sectarian violence in Baghdad, including terror attacks and reprisal killings, also referred to as extrajudicial killings. This cell is also directly linked to the kidnapping and murder of the four U.S. soldiers in Karbala on the 20th of January.   

The Iraqi public also shows increasing signs of support. Last week, I mentioned that the number of tips to the coalition was increasing. Let me give you one example of the value of this information. On 24 March, a tip from inside Sadr City, and I think that's significant, led Iraqi and coalition forces to a cache in Sadr City of over 450 deadly anti-tank mines.   

An atmospherics survey in Baghdad taken 16 to 22 March provides some positive insights. It has reported that citizens are hoping the security plan will last, and it's showing signs of improvement. They are expressing greater confidence in the security plan and in their security forces. And citizens are now complaining more about essential services, electricity and water, than they are about security.   

I'd like to continue to follow up on some other topics I mentioned last week, providing you with more insight into the nature of the enemy we're fighting in Iraq. Most high-profile attacks are aimed at innocent Iraqis in markets and religious centers. In recent months, al Qaeda in Iraq, AQI, has resorted to attacking civilians with chlorine gas-laden VBIEDs.   

Some examples since my last briefing -- on 23 March, Iraqi police in Ramadi alertly intercepted a suicide bomber driving a cargo truck filled with 5,000 gallons of chlorine and two tons of explosives. On 28 March, another two chlorine truck bombs were engaged and detonated outside the Fallujah military operations center, injuring 14 U.S. troops and 57 Iraqis.   

I strongly believe this use of chlorine should not be dismissed merely as a new tactic or an emerging trend. Chlorine is a poison gas. It is a poison gas being used on the Iraqi people. Before these attacks, the last time poison gas was used on the Iraqi people was by Saddam Hussein. Al Qaeda in Iraq and other related Sunni extremists are employing this weapon against the Sunni population of Al Anbar province, so we have Sunni extremists attacking innocent Sunnis with a poison gas. We assess this escalation of AQI's murder and intimidation campaign as a reaction to the growing anti-AQI resistance that we see in Al Anbar province. 

In reaction to these poison gas attacks, our commanders report that the Iraqi security forces have conducted their most aggressive operations to date and continue to apply effective pressure against AQI in Al Anbar. The use of poison gas on innocent Iraqi civilians discredits all of the Sunni extremist propaganda of being, quote, "an honorable resistance," focused on, quote, "driving out the infidels." 

In addition to the increasing use of poison gas, we have also seen another example of children being used to facilitate insurgent attacks. You will recall that last week I briefed you and mentioned a suicide attack in Baghdad on 18 March in which two children were used to help move a vehicle-borne IED through checkpoints; an attack where the adults fled, detonating the bomb with both children inside. 

Regrettably, this tactic continues. On 21 March, a three-vehicle Iraqi police convoy was pursuing a suspicious vehicle in Haditha. As they drove past a 12- to 14-year old Iraqi boy riding a bicycle, a bomb in the boy's backpack detonated killing him instantly.  These acts, the use of poison gas and the use of children as weapons, are unacceptable in any civilized society and demonstrate the truly dishonorable nature of this enemy.

On Sunday, Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero of the Joint Staff assessed the security situation in Baghdad in light of ongoing operations. It contains positives you won't read about in the MSM.   
Our top priority in Iraq continues to be our support for the Baghdad security plan, Fard al-Qanun, designed to provide security and reduce violence to levels that will allow the Iraqi leadership to make political progress. As I mentioned last week, this plan will require a sustained commitment over time, and while it is still too early to identify trends, we continue to see some early positive indicators, and I would like to share a few of those with you. 

Operation Fard al-Qanun has been ongoing for approximately six weeks. In comparison to the six-week period immediately preceding the start of this operation, over all across Iraq sectarian violence remains at reduced levels. Attacks against civilians are down by about 20 percent, and civilian deaths are down by about 30 percent. Specifically in Baghdad, comparing the same six-week periods, attacks against civilians are down by 20 percent, with civilian deaths down by about 50 percent. Also, EFP or explosively formed projectile attacks nationwide are down from about 38 attacks in December to 22 in March. The average of daily attacks in Al Anbar province has also dropped over the past month. 

However, recent data shows the enemy continues to adapt and remains lethal. Regrettably, attacks against -- attack levels against coalition forces have remained constant. 

High-profile attacks, especially suicide vests and vehicle attacks, have increased by about 30 percent, but the effectiveness of these high-profile attacks continues to be below pre-Fard al-Qanun levels. We assess this decreased effectiveness of high-profile attacks to be the result of increased and more effective security.   

The Iraqi government continues their firm commitment to unimpeded security operations. As an example of this, Iraqi and U.S. forces recently captured the al-Khazaali brothers, key leaders in a Shi'a extremist cell that has been responsible for sectarian violence in Baghdad, including terror attacks and reprisal killings, also referred to as extrajudicial killings. This cell is also directly linked to the kidnapping and murder of the four U.S. soldiers in Karbala on the 20th of January.   

The Iraqi public also shows increasing signs of support. Last week, I mentioned that the number of tips to the coalition was increasing. Let me give you one example of the value of this information. On 24 March, a tip from inside Sadr City, and I think that's significant, led Iraqi and coalition forces to a cache in Sadr City of over 450 deadly anti-tank mines.   

An atmospherics survey in Baghdad taken 16 to 22 March provides some positive insights. It has reported that citizens are hoping the security plan will last, and it's showing signs of improvement. They are expressing greater confidence in the security plan and in their security forces. And citizens are now complaining more about essential services, electricity and water, than they are about security.   

I'd like to continue to follow up on some other topics I mentioned last week, providing you with more insight into the nature of the enemy we're fighting in Iraq. Most high-profile attacks are aimed at innocent Iraqis in markets and religious centers. In recent months, al Qaeda in Iraq, AQI, has resorted to attacking civilians with chlorine gas-laden VBIEDs.   

Some examples since my last briefing -- on 23 March, Iraqi police in Ramadi alertly intercepted a suicide bomber driving a cargo truck filled with 5,000 gallons of chlorine and two tons of explosives. On 28 March, another two chlorine truck bombs were engaged and detonated outside the Fallujah military operations center, injuring 14 U.S. troops and 57 Iraqis.   

I strongly believe this use of chlorine should not be dismissed merely as a new tactic or an emerging trend. Chlorine is a poison gas. It is a poison gas being used on the Iraqi people. Before these attacks, the last time poison gas was used on the Iraqi people was by Saddam Hussein. Al Qaeda in Iraq and other related Sunni extremists are employing this weapon against the Sunni population of Al Anbar province, so we have Sunni extremists attacking innocent Sunnis with a poison gas. We assess this escalation of AQI's murder and intimidation campaign as a reaction to the growing anti-AQI resistance that we see in Al Anbar province. 

In reaction to these poison gas attacks, our commanders report that the Iraqi security forces have conducted their most aggressive operations to date and continue to apply effective pressure against AQI in Al Anbar. The use of poison gas on innocent Iraqi civilians discredits all of the Sunni extremist propaganda of being, quote, "an honorable resistance," focused on, quote, "driving out the infidels." 

In addition to the increasing use of poison gas, we have also seen another example of children being used to facilitate insurgent attacks. You will recall that last week I briefed you and mentioned a suicide attack in Baghdad on 18 March in which two children were used to help move a vehicle-borne IED through checkpoints; an attack where the adults fled, detonating the bomb with both children inside. 

Regrettably, this tactic continues. On 21 March, a three-vehicle Iraqi police convoy was pursuing a suspicious vehicle in Haditha. As they drove past a 12- to 14-year old Iraqi boy riding a bicycle, a bomb in the boy's backpack detonated killing him instantly.  These acts, the use of poison gas and the use of children as weapons, are unacceptable in any civilized society and demonstrate the truly dishonorable nature of this enemy.