By Seaman William Selby, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 15, 2008 - With more than 31,000 citizens now providing security assistance to coalition forces in southern belts of Baghdad and the southern provinces of Iraq, the Iraqi people continue to move forward, a U.S. commander said yesterday. The concerned local citizens man more than 1,400 checkpoints and have pointed out more than 400 weapons caches and improvised explosive devices, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Multinational Division Center, said yesterday during a teleconference with online journalists and "bloggers."
"We are working to establish a sustained security presence and bring Iraqi security forces into specific areas," Lynch said.
When Multinational Division Center arrived in Iraq 10 months ago, there were on average 25 attacks per day in the division's area of responsibility, Lynch said. Now there are less than five per day. And of those five, only one, on average, results in casualty or damage to equipment, he noted.
The Iraqis also have provided intelligence that has led to the capture of several high-priority targets the coalition had been seeking over the last 10 months, the general added.
Lynch said he believes this to be a result of the Iraqi citizens taking responsibility for their own country.
"I'm convinced that what happened was they just got tired of the violence, they got tired of the intimidation, they got tired of being told what they could and couldn't do," he added. "So now they've risen up."
The 31,000 citizens helping with security work in about 150 groups at the local level.
"What we're finding is this amazing identification as Iraqis, not Sunni or Shiias," said Lynch. "All of them talk about being Iraqi and doing the right thing for the people in their areas."
Now, with the citizens feeling more secure, the coalition is focusing more on a new campaign plan called Marne Fortitude II.
"Marne Fortitude II allows us to focus on economic development, job development, and at the same time maintain security where it is now," Lynch explained.
"None of (the citizens) are worried about security," Lynch said. "All of them are worried about services such as power and the economy. They've organized themselves at the local level through a governing body, and they want connectivity with the provincial governments, so we're working on that."
The coalition and the concerned local citizens are working together to ensure that they establish irreversible momentum, Lynch said.
"To keep from moving backwards and keep this window of opportunity open, we're spending a lot of time working with the Iraqi security forces to improve their capacity, and then do things like work on local governance and local economic development to maintain forward progress," he said.
(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)