Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007: A Great Year in Iraq

Al-Qaeda out, troop deaths down as "Surge" works

The Iraqi interior ministry lauded its achievements over the past year on Saturday, saying that 75 percent of Al-Qaeda's networks in the country had been destroyed in 12 months.

Ministry spokesman Abdul Karim Khalaf also outlined sharp falls in the numbers of assassinations, kidnappings and death squad murders.

He told a news conference that increased patrols along the borders with Saudi Arabia and Syria had slowed infiltration by militants and played a key role in Iraq's improved security situation.

"We have destroyed 75 percent of Al-Qaeda hide-outs, and we broke up major criminal networks that supported Al-Qaeda in Baghdad," he said.

"After eliminating safe houses in Anbar province, which used to be Al-Qaeda's base, we moved into areas surrounding Baghdad and into Diyala province. Al-Qaeda headed north and we are pursuing them," he said.

Khalaf said kidnappings were down 70 percent and that an average of three to five people killed by death squads were being found each day in Baghdad compared with 15 to 20 a day in February.

Personnel with militant or criminal links had been weeded out from Iraqi security forces, he said, adding that Sunni-US alliances against Al-Qaeda had also significantly contributed to the drop in violence.

The dropping death toll of American soldiers also gives proof that the surge started in the summer of 2007 has worked spectacularly.

According to there were 14 American soldiers killed in hostile action in Iraq, down from 120 earlier in March of 2007.

“Every trend we watch is down roughly about 60 percent: civilian deaths, numbers of attacks, and thankfully our casualties are down as well,” Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “As we go into the new year, we clearly want to build on the momentum that has been achieved by our forces working closely together with Iraqi forces.”

Petraeus said Iraqi forces also had a surge this year, with 110,000 new Iraqi soldiers and police.

Petraeus appeared on the morning news program to discuss the release of this week’s quarterly report, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq.” With the success of the surges comes the question of reducing the number of U.S. forces in Iraq while maintaining the positive trends, he said.

“We want to reduce the strain on our ground forces as much as we can while recognizing that what has been achieved here remains tenuous and is still fragile in a number of areas,” the general said. “We have laid out a plan that will take us through the end of July, and it will result in the reduction without replacement of about one-quarter of our combat forces.”

Petraeus was cautious about committing to further troop reductions and reiterated that al Qaeda remains a significant threat. “Al Qaeda remains a very dangerous and very lethal organization, and it is one that will continually try to reconstitute and one that we must pursue tenaciously and relentlessly, and that is what we and our Iraqi partners are doing,” Petraeus said.

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