- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The U.S. command in Iraq yesterday spoke of “life coming back to some normalcy” in violence-racked Baghdad, where for weeks American and Iraqi forces have launched raids to subdue various insurgent groups and militias that seem bent on instigating a civil war.

“We are cautiously optimistic and encouraged by all the indicators that we are seeing,” Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told reporters in the Iraqi capital in an assessment of Operation Together Forward. “What we’re seeing in these areas is life coming back to some normalcy. We see women and children walking freely in Amiriyah [neighborhood], something that was not seen prior to Operation Together Forward.”

He displayed a map of the multiethnic city, with neighborhoods shaded in different colors to show how far they had progressed in reducing violence and restarting city services.

Gen. Caldwell’s report came a month after Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee he had not seen such a high level of violence in Baghdad since the city was liberated from dictator Saddam Hussein in April 2003. The general said he feared a Sunni-Shi’ite civil war, but added that he thought the new government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would prevent it.

Gen. Caldwell said that today, the Iraqi government is preventing such a war, and pointed to statistics that attacks in some city sections have gone from 30 a day to zero.

“There in fact has been a downturn in the level of violence within Baghdad over the last three weeks,” he said. “The prime minister and his government has formulated a plan that is in fact proven at this point to have been very effective. And time will tell — months will tell how effective it really is, but the initial indicators are very positive.”

U.S. and Iraqi forces are facing multiple enemies in Baghdad: Al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists, Iraqi Sunni insurgents and Shi’ite death squads connected to the Mahdi’s Army of cleric Muqtada al Sadr, who the United States says is financed by Iran’s radical Islamic regime.

American commanders have given optimistic assessments before for Iraq, only to see parts of the country fall into chaos and violence. It remains to be seen whether the favorable trend continues in Baghdad.

“There is still much to be done, and we, together with the government of Iraq, have a long way to go,” Gen. Caldwell said. “But with Iraqis in the lead making things happen, there’s hope for the future.”

The command’s chief spokesman ticked off a list of raids and arrests in various Baghdad neighborhoods in recent days that resulted in decreased violence and a return of residents to shops and outdoor markets.

He said the coalition has mounted up to four major operations a night for several weeks to clean out one neighborhood at a time. An Iraqi reporter asked if the United States will produce “miracles” in the small town of Dura, such as paving the streets and bringing electricity.

“If there’s a miracle that’s going to occur in Iraq, it’s going to be the Iraqis that will produce that miracle,” Gen. Caldwell said.

Lt. Gen. Robert Fry, the senior British commander in Iraq, joined the debate on whether Iraq is, or isn’t, in a civil war. Gen. Fry said the sectarian violence is largely confined to greater Baghdad and that the central government is functioning.

“I do not see a condition of civil war,” he said from Baghdad in a conference call at the Pentagon. “The numbers of sectarian killings which have taken place in Baghdad over the last few weeks are dramatically reduced.”

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