Violence Declines Because Iraqis Tired of War, General Says

By Terence P. Jeffrey | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT


(CNSNews.com) - Violence is declining in Iraq because Iraqis have grown tired of war, Army Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling told reporters Monday in a teleconference from Contingency Operating Base Speicher outside Tikrit, Iraq.

The general, who commands Multinational Division North and the 1st Armored Division, also attributed the declining violence to the increased capabilities of Iraqi security forces and their effectiveness working in tandem with the U.S. military.

"I think a combination of the people being sick of the violence and the fact that the Iraqi security forces - both army and police - are improving across the board has contributed to the reduction in violence," said Hertling.

"I think primarily the reduction in violence has been caused by the fact that the Iraqi citizens, across the board, are tired of seeing people use their country for a traumatic playground," he said.

"The Iraqi people have stepped up, and that's the primary reason. They're tired of violence. They just want to go back to having their children go to school, farming their fields, running their businesses," Hertling added.

"The second issue, though," he said, "is the increased capability of the Iraqi security forces."

Hertling returned to Iraq from Germany two months ago to take command of Multinational Division North, which oversees coalition forces stationed in four Iraqi provinces, which are north of Baghdad and east of Anbar Province.

He previously served as assistant division commander of the 1st Armored Division, when it was deployed in Baghdad in 2003-2004.

On Nov. 5, the forces under Hertling's command, in combination with Iraqi troops, launched a long-planned operation called Iron Hammer, which is targeting al Qaeda cells in a region of northern Iraq the size of Pennsylvania.

Hertling said the operation has been tremendously successful so far, seizing 400 al Qaeda terrorists and other extremists, as well as 79 arms caches, including "ammunition, homemade explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, about 500 RPGs, 50 RPG launchers, a variety of machine guns, over 100 heavy and light machine guns."

Hertling said that of the 400 terrorists his troops have detained, 200 are still undergoing questioning about the al Qaeda cells operating in the region.

"They are giving us some very good intelligence on the makeup of those cells -- who the leaders are -- and we're continuing to use that information for intelligence-driven raids to continue to go after those organizations," he said.

About 22 percent of the arms caches discovered by Iron Hammer, Hertling said, were discovered because of tips from local citizens.

The area of Iraq that Hertling's forces cover has recently become the most violent area in Iraq because the surge of U.S. troops and the "Awakening" movement among Sunni sheiks in Anbar Province -- which has led to an alliance between formerly hostile Sunni tribes and U.S. forces -- have driven al Qaeda from Anbar and Baghdad.

"What you're seeing is the enemy shifting," said Hertling.

Even though his region is now the most violent in Iraq, he said attacks are nonetheless dropping there dramatically. In June, "there were 1,830 IEDS placed in the MND-North area," said Hertling. "In the October time frame, there were about 900."

Through the first 19 days of October, he said, there were 520 IEDs placed in his region, and through Nov. 19 there were only 466.

"So, it's still continuing to go down, and what's critical about that is, as you know, October was the month of Eid and was somewhat of an off-month, and attacks decreased significantly. So the fact that we're still under the current glide path for the same period last month tells me that's good," Hertling added.

Hertling said that he is now planning a follow-up operation to Operation Iron Hammer. It will be called Iron Reaper. "I won't tell you what we're going to do during that particular operation, but we're going to continue to pursue al Qaeda extremists," said Hertling.

"Whenever you hear the term 'Iron' linked with something else, you'll know that something big is going on in MND-North," he added.

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