Wednesday, June 25, 2008
By Courtney Kealy Fox News MOSUL, Iraq — Just weeks after being under siege from Al Qaeda insurgents, residents of Mosul are enjoying a newfound sense of security as Iraqi forces bring stability to the country's third largest city. With Iraqi soldiers and police filling the streets, shopkeepers have opened their doors without fear of being targeted by insurgents. Commerce is back. Many locals say the city is much safer than it was just three months ago. "There used to be shootings, and children could not go outside," a resident told FOX News early this month, holding the hands of his two young sons. "It was difficult — we could not move around. But now it's better." Iraqi security forces, with the help of the U.S. military, have launched sweeping operations against Al Qaeda in Mosul, which is considered the insurgent group's last major urban stronghold.Recently, Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, the Iraqi army commander in Nineveh province, declared the offensive — dubbed Operation Lion's Roar — a success, saying insurgents will not return to the area now that the Iraqi Army has taken control. Joined by his U.S. counterpart and Mosul's mayor, Riyadh toured the city on a foot patrol and held an impromptu news conference at a new police station to announce the creation of a jobs program. Locals eagerly vented their grievances to the visiting authorities, including U.S. Brig. Gen. Raymond Thomas, who walked with Riyadh and told shopkeepers that the mayor of Mosul would be hiring 8,000 men to assist with reconstruction. Thomas encouraged the residents to apply. Despite the new sense of calm, the Northern city is still considered the central front in the battle against Al Qaeda, and the U.S. military continues to emphasize that while armed groups are bloodied, they're not crushed. Major Adam Boyd, an intelligence officer for the 3rd Armored Cavalry division, which is based in the city, stressed that Al Qaeda isn't entirely defeated. "Al Qaeda still operates in Mosul. ... I will tell you, tales of a final battle have been greatly exaggerated," he said. "It would not necessarily be a final battle because all that has to happen is Al Qaeda simply lays low. That does not mean they will thrive, but they can survive." Iraqi forces now lead operations in all three of Iraq’s major cities — Baghdad, Basrah and Mosul — but they still depend on the U.S. military for critical advice, backup and logistical support. Lt. Col. Robert Molina, an operations officer for the 3rd Armored Cavalry, said Iraqis still need U.S. military forces to stay. "We need to continue to be here and mentor them, to be their friend and ally, to continue to allow them to fight while we help build that sustainment, that foundation," he said.