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Friday, June 6, 2008

Iraq violence at lowest level in four years

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military has reported a significant drop in violence in Iraq in a continuing downward trend.

Officials said May 2008 marked the fewest number of strikes in Iraq in four years. They said the decline included the use of improvised explosive devices and explosively-formed penetrators, the leading cause of U.S. troop casualties in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Both EFP and IED numbers continue to go down," Brig. Gen. John Campbell, deputy director for regional operations for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. "The trend is looking very well."

In a June 4 briefing, Campbell, a U.S. Army officer, said Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition forces have been discovering Sunni and Shi'ite weapons and bomb caches. He said the numerous finds have depleted insurgency resources.

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Officials cited improved security tactics and personnel as well as an increase in tips from Iraqi citizens for the drop in IED and other attacks.

They said that despite the expected occasional success of an Al Qaida suicide bombing, the attacks in Iraq would continue to fall.

"I think the final thing is just experience," Campbell said. "The longer you are on the ground, you'll see the number of caches found and the number of IEDs and EFPs found much, much higher."

Officials said the U.S.-led coalition has increased efforts to block the flow of weapons and bombs from neighboring Iran. They said Iraqi border forces have been strengthened along the eastern border with Iran in an effort to halt the smuggling of EFPs.

At the same time, the Iraqi Interior Ministry has been moving toward procuring X-ray machines and advanced systems at border crossings and checkpoints. Officials said Iraq has about 560,000 army and police personnel, a force that has overwhelmed the insurgents.

"It's no secret that if they [insurgents] stay and fight, they don't have a chance," Campbell said. "As we've flooded the zones. We've moved out the joint security stations and combat outposts [and have] a 24/7 presence out there. It's a lot harder to put these [bombs] out as we continue to patrol."

[On June 4, 19 people were killed in twin suicide car bombings in Baghdad. Officials said the attack was one of the bloodiest in 2008.]

Officials also attributed the increase in security to the Sunni-dominated auxiliary police force, Sons of Iraq. They said Sons of Iraq, many of whose members have been hired for the police, provided Iraqi and coalition forces with intelligence about enemy strategy and tactics.

Over the next year, officials said, the Interior Ministry plans to recruit 15,000 Sons of Iraq members for security forces. They said the remaining 65,000 members would undergo technical training or be offered employment.

Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a Multinational Force-Iraq spokesman, said Iraqi security forces have grown by 40 percent over the last year. Since May 20, Bergner said, Iraqi and U.S. forces have found 94 weapons caches, including TNT, small-arms ammunition and mortars.

"There is no doubt, though, that extremists retain the ability to replenish these weapons stocks," Bergner said. "So operations to pursue and continue the pressure on their networks must be sustained."

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