General Says Mission In Baghdad Falls Short
By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 20, 2006; A01
BAGHDAD, Oct. 19 -- A two-month U.S.-Iraqi military operation to stem sectarian bloodshed and insurgent attacks in Baghdad has failed to reduce the violence, which has surged 22 percent in the capital in the last three weeks, much of it in areas where the military has focused its efforts, a senior U.S. military spokesman said Thursday.
The assessment by Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV followed a 43 percent spike in attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces in the capital since midsummer that has pushed U.S. military fatalities to their highest rates in more than a year. The military reported that three soldiers were killed in Anbar province west of Baghdad on Wednesday, bringing the number of U.S troops killed so far this month to 74.
Caldwell's appraisal of the Baghdad campaign known as Operation Together Forward was in stark contrast to reviews during the opening weeks. At that time, U.S. military leaders said the deployment of 12,000 additional U.S. troops in Baghdad's most violent neighborhoods was significantly improving security for residents.
The operation "has not met our overall expectations of sustaining a reduction in the levels of violence," Caldwell said Thursday at a weekly news briefing. Violence has risen in the areas where the U.S.-Iraqi operation has focused, because of counterattacks, he said.
"We're finding insurgent elements, the extremists, are pushing back hard. They're trying to get back into those areas" where Iraqi and U.S. forces have targeted them, he said. "We're constantly going back in and doing clearing operations."
Under the program, joint U.S.-Iraqi teams of soldiers and police entered dangerous Baghdad neighborhoods and used aggressive tactics to try to secure them, engaging with fighters, searching door-to-door and patrolling the streets. Teams then moved on to the next sector, leaving behind a fixed force that attempted to ensure gunmen would not return. The goal of the program was also to restore basic services such as trash collection.
Now, Caldwell said, "we are working very closely with the government of Iraq to determine how best to refocus our efforts. . . . It's clear that the conditions under which we started are probably not the same today. And so it does require some modifications of the plan."
Attacks on police and military units continued in many parts of Iraq on Thursday. Coordinated suicide car and truck bombings and mortar attacks on several police facilities and two U.S. patrols in the northern city of Mosul killed at least 12 Iraqis and wounded 30, local police and hospital officials said. There were no reports of U.S. casualties.
Later in Kirkuk, about 150 miles north of Baghdad, a suicide car bomber targeted a group of soldiers and civilians lined up outside a bank to cash their paychecks before the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr this week. The explosion killed 12 people and injured about 70. Three people were killed in a suicide car blast at a checkpoint west of Kirkuk early Thursday night.
In Baghdad, at least 19 people were killed and 31 injured in mortar attacks, suicide bombings and roadside bombings. News services reported at least 23 other killings Thursday in violence scattered around the country.
There are about 68,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad, and about 15,400 troops are taking part in Operation Together Forward. The campaign was launched in early August in response to attacks that were claiming as many as 100 lives a day in the capital. In September, 2,667 Iraqis were killed in Baghdad, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry.
Without providing exact statistics, Caldwell said attacks had surged during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The four weeks of fasting end in a few days with the beginning of the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr. But Caldwell said the increase in attacks on U.S. forces also reflected the fact that more forces are patrolling Baghdad because of Operation Together Forward. The timing of the violence was also linked to the upcoming midterm elections in the United States, he said.
"The enemy knows that killing innocent people and Americans will garner headlines and create a sense of frustration," he said.
Caldwell said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has adopted Operation Together Forward as "the model which he is trying to take to clear the city of the violence and extremism." But the campaign is under intense counterattack, he said, because "if you want to in fact discredit the government and show they have an inability to bring security and safety to the city, you would in fact target the focus areas. We think that's exactly why it's occurring."
Maliki, who heads a government led by Shiite Muslim religious parties, has come under criticism recently for not doing enough to curb sectarian violence, particularly reining in the Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by popular Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The force has been accused of slaughtering Sunni Arabs and forcing tens of thousand of them to flee their homes.
Caldwell also said that on Wednesday, at Maliki's behest, the U.S. military freed a Sadr official, Mazin al-Saidy, who had been detained the day before by U.S. forces in Baghdad on suspicion of being a member of the Mahdi Army and involvement in the killings of numerous Sunnis.
Caldwell said he did not know why Maliki had intervened to have Saidy released, but said it was not for the United States to "second-guess him."
"He is the prime minister of this nation, and . . . if he makes that decision, he has a lot of other information which we probably are not privy to," Caldwell said.
He said that as a condition of his release, Saidy signed a statement "promising to support the government of Iraq and disavow future acts of violence."
Washington Post correspondents in Mosul, Kirkuk and Baqubah contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company