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ARLINGTON, Va. — Attacks against U.S. troops southwest of Baghdad are the lowest they’ve been in the last year, according to the commander of U.S. forces there.

Army Col. Michael Garrett, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division said as a result “over the last month, we have made as much progress against Shia and Sunni extremists as we’ve made in the previous 10 months.”

During a Monday video brief from his headquarters at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Garrett said previously the lowest number of monthly attacks the “Spartan” Brigade had registered was 79 in November 2006.

But so far this month, there have been no attacks at all, according to the chart.

“Thirteen months later we’ve seen significant change,” in the brigade’s area of responsibility, which includes Babil, Karbala and Najaf Provinces, Garrett said.

Garrett said that much of the reason the security situation has changed so quickly is thanks to the ballooning “concerned citizens” movement, an effort that uses local Iraqis in a sort of armed-and-paid neighborhood watch security program.

These “concerned citizens” are under contract to and paid by the U.S. military to operate checkpoints, with the cooperation of Iraqi police or army units.

Garrett said the Spartans have contracts with 13 such groups, totaling about 1,300 men.

The brigade is positioned along what Garrett described as “a very complex area: what we call the Sunni/Shia fault line.”

In addition to Sunni militants, including al-Qaida, the brigade has to deal with members of the Madhi Army, or Jaish al Mahdi, as the U.S. military calls the military arm of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

“We’ve really been working hard on the JAM issue,” Garrett said. “JAM (is) a significant problem for us.”

The good news, Garrett said, “that through our concerned citizens program, (we) have gained much targetable, actionable intelligence,” to defeat the JAM and other insurgents.

The Spartans’ progress has been hard-won, however: 53 of Spartan Brigade soldiers have been killed since 2006.

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