By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2004 -- Despite what is predominantly reported by civilian media outlets, the number of attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq has decreased, the deputy operations director for Multinational Force Iraq said today during an interview from Baghdad.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel told the Pentagon Channel today that the total number of attacks from rockets, mortars and small-arms fire in Iraq has actually gone down from August to September. But, he added, "there has been an increase in the level of violence in these attacks."
"When you have terrorists using car bombs killing innocent children, killing recruits at Iraq National Guard and police stations, it gives the impression that the level of violence has gone up, that the number of attacks have gone up," Lessel explained.
He attributed the decrease to military operations in Najaf during August. There, coalition forces clamped down on insurgent fighters loyal to radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, which forced a peace agreement.
He said the coalition will continue in its efforts to secure the country and "get local control" over all cities in Iraq in time for elections in January. "We are making progress every day in eroding the network of foreign fighters and criminal elements," Lessel said. "And we're going to stay after it until the job is done."
In the past week, he said, coalition forces have stepped up operations against insurgents to restore peace across Iraq, especially in the cities of Samarra and Fallujah.
In Samarra, there has been calm over past three days, he said. "There have not been any attacks in Samarra. "People are out on the streets, life is returning to normal," he said. "We were able to return and restore some of the construction projects that had been started week ago."
In Fallujah, where coalition forces this week continue air strikes aimed at associates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, there is still work to be done.
"We've had great success over the last four to six weeks in eroding the network, eroding their capability," Lessel said. "We've had successful strikes against his lieutenants, the leadership within the organization and the support that they receive."
The general said the coalition still has a long way to go in the fight against those insurgents, "but we are tearing it apart day by day."
Lessel emphasized that with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan approaching, coalition leaders are hopeful for peace, but are "planning for and expecting the possibility of increased attacks."
"We are hoping that we do not see an increase in the level of attacks," he said. "But we will be ready if necessary."
He said coalition forces will increase their level of security in preparation for the start of Ramadan, which begins Oct. 15. "We certainly hope we can keep the insurgents off balance so that they do not conduct operations as extensively has they have in the past," Lessel said.
He also pointed out that insurgent may use the holy month as an opportunity to disrupt January elections. "The closer that we get, the more the election process goes forward, the stronger the government becomes, the stronger the Iraqi security forces become, then the less opportunity the insurgents have for success," Lessel said.
He said coalition forces will have a role in helping support efforts to secure the election process. However, he added, he is hopeful that by January Iraqi security forces will be able, to the "maximum extent," provide a secure environment for elections throughout the country.
"We have every confidence that we will be able to provide the type of security necessary to conduct free, fair and legitimate elections in January," he said.
Lessel said that insurgent attacks are designed to be "highly visible to the media, to have a high impact on public opinion, and this is what we are fighting day in and day out."