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Iraq: Terrorism Waning, Citizens Register to Vote

Terrorism Waning, Citizens Registering To Vote in Northwest Iraq

General says al-Qaida severely impaired, 100,000 new voters registered

Washington -- Al-Qaida operations have been degraded severely, the city of Tall Afar is now under Iraqi government control and 100,000 new voters have registered for the constitutional referendum in Iraq's Nineveh Province, a U.S. general says.

Army Brigadier General Kevin Bergner is the deputy commanding general of Multinational Force-Northwest in Iraq. His troops are responsible for the ongoing security operations in northwestern Iraq's Nineveh Province. He briefed journalists at the Pentagon September 23 via teleconference.

Bergner said coalition and Iraqi forces now are disrupting the capabilities of about 80 percent of al-Qaida's terrorist network. That percentage, he said, is based on detaining, capturing and killing the leadership; disrupting their resources and support bases; and neutralizing their capability to conduct operations, not only against Iraqi civilians, but also against Iraqi security forces and U.S. forces.

"Since January, we have captured or killed 80 … mid- to senior-level leaders -- that we know were part of the al-Qaida network in northern Iraq," Bergner said.

Moreover, Bergner said, the region's civilians are "no longer on the fence" in siding with government and coalition forces or remnants of the Baathist regimes and terrorists. "They want their freedom," he said. Their support best can be measured, he said, by "the number of tips and information that they pass [along] that allow Iraqi security forces and our own to interrupt and preclude attacks."

Another strong indicator of growing support is the steady number of new recruits volunteering for the Iraqi security and police forces, Bergner said.

As for the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces, he said many can conduct "limited independent operations at the small-unit level." Police, he said, "are shooting back when they get shot at. They're standing their ground more …. They are offensively oriented. And they are increasingly able to develop their own intelligence and then conduct operations based on that intelligence."

Asked to quantify the improvement in the security situation, the general said that in the first two months of 2005, there were between 100 and 115 weekly insurgent attacks in the region. Now, however, the weekly count is usually between 40 and 60 attacks, with occasional spikes climbing as high as 70.

"So just in rough terms, it's close to almost a 50 percent decrease in the number of attacks," he said.

TAL AFAR NOW CONTROLLED BY IRAQI GOVERNMENT

Concerning the recent offensive operation in Tal Afar, where more than 13,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces took part and where more than 600 insurgents were killed or captured, Bergner said Iraqi control "has largely been accomplished." Now the operation, he said, has become "a broad reconstruction and reconciliation effort."

Bergner said there are about 10,000 Iraqi security forces in Tal Afar, and that strength will be maintained "until we see that the Iraqi government, the city government and the Iraqi people have coalesced to a level that they're able to deal with the security situation with a reduced force." He also said Iraqi leaders have agreed to recruit and train more than a thousand police for Tal Afar, which is a city of approximately 150,000 located near the Syrian border.

PREPARATIONS FOR REFERENDUM CONTINUING

Preparations for the constitutional referendum in October, to be followed by national elections in December, are "progressing as planned," Bergner said. He noted that more than 100,000 new voters have registered in Nineveh Province during the most recent registration period.

"I should point out that in the election in January only about 150,000 -- total -- voted," he said.

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