WASHINGTON– Most Iraqi people now reject the violence that has plagued their neighborhoods and the extremists who have been inciting the violence, a senior official in the region said today.

“We increasingly see a commitment to economic development and reconstruction. That is the path that leads to prosperity and the broadest opportunity for all Iraqis to share in it,” said Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, in a news conference.

In places where Iraqi citizens have rejected the violence, people are returning to their homes and capitalizing on improving local security conditions, he said.

Southern Baghdad neighborhoods such as Yusifiyah, Mahmudiyah and Latafiyah have seen the return of more than 10,000 of the nearly 19,000 who left after being forced out by al-Qaida.

Bergner cited several other local-level signs of progress in the country.

In Zatia, a local company recently finished building two windmills used to pump water from wells for drinking and irrigation, providing water for 150 local families.

In Iskanidriya, an area formerly known as the Triangle of Death, fish farms and hatcheries are being rebuilt with the help of micro-loans. The local industry was nearly destroyed by al-Qaida.

East of Salman Pak, other agriculture sectors are being revitalized. There is a recent growth in bee keeping and honey production, new techniques in land management, and programs for date palm inoculation, Bergner said.

Despite the progress, however, Iraqi and coalition forces face tough fighting ahead, he said. Coalition forces remain on the offense against al-Qaida, pressuring their network and limiting their safe havens and operating bases.

“Iraqi security forces and the Sons of Iraq (a citizen-security group) are increasingly the first line of defense in this campaign,” Bergner said.

Yesterday, al-Qaida operatives attacked a small village near Baqouba. The Sons of Iraq fended off the terrorists until the Iraqi security forces could join the fight and launch a counteroffensive. Twelve terrorists were killed. One member of the Sons of Iraq was killed, and several were wounded, Bergner said.

“We are continuing to pursue al-Qaida terrorists, targeting their leaders, disrupting their lines of communication, and denying them safe havens in Iraq,” the general said.

Coalition forces have been working closely with the Iraqi security forces and government to secure parts of Baghdad’s embattled Sadr City district to deliver essentials such as water, food and fuel to the people there.

In recent weeks, attackers have increased their rocket and mortar attacks, killing about 40 people in Baghdad and injuring 370 others, the general reported.

“We are responding appropriately to these lethal attacks. As we do so, we use precision strikes and take every precaution to limit the damage,” Bergner said. “The fact that the nature of these criminals is to operate from civilian neighborhoods, and thereby place innocent civilians at risk, makes this a complex and difficult challenge whether in Basra, Baghdad or other communities.”

Bergner said coalition operations in the area are targeting groups and weapons that are killing Iraqi people, endangering the Iraqi seed of government and endangering neighborhoods in Baghdad.

“We continue to help the government of Iraq to improve the security situation, take the appropriate responses to the violence that’s being perpetrated by these groups and, at the same time, assist in the provision of services in an environment that’s very difficult,” Bergner said.

Joint efforts between coalition forces, Iraqi forces and the Iraqi government have established a Combined Civil-Military Operations Center that provides a central point for the citizens of Thawra, the southern portion of Sadr City, to process claims and request essential services and aid. It also coordinates reconstruction projects for the district.

Short-term projects include installing street lighting, removing trash and rubble, fixing sewage disposal, and distributing food, medical supplies, and small generators and reconstruction supplies.

Over the next three months, plans are to refurbish three medical clinics, revitalize the Jamila wholesale food market, issue business micro-loans, and renovate schools.

The operation will expedite some $2.5 million worth of aid and reconstruction investment beginning in the secured areas of Thawra, Bergner said.

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