Iraqi Progress Report Cites Successes, Challenges Ahead
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 30, 2006 The Defense Department's latest quarterly report to Congress on progress in Iraq cites continued momentum on the political, economic and security fronts and evidence that those attempting to derail it are failing, senior defense officials told Pentagon reporters today.
DoD delivered "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" to Congress today. The report, the fourth of its kind, evaluates political stability, economic activity, the security environment, and security force training and performance.
The report highlights what Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, called a major milestone: the formation of Iraq's permanent new democratically elected government. "It is the culmination of the democratic process we have been helping the Iraqis develop since we got there," he said.
This unity government, formed May 20, represents a true success story for Iraq, Rodman said, noting the trend toward more Sunni Arab participation in the political process.
Delays in establishing this government left Iraq "in limbo" for a few months, Rodman acknowledged. This void may have been a factor in the violence that escalated following the Golden Mosque bombing in Samarra, and caused temporary economic setbacks by delaying economic reforms, he said.
But with the government process now on track, the Iraqis are working together to overcome the obstacles it faces, Rodman said.
Despite persistent efforts, the enemies of the new government are failing in their efforts to derail the political progress, incite large-scale ethnic or sectarian violence, and alienate the Iraqi people from their democratic process, he said.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Victor "Gene" Renuart, the Joint Staff's director for strategic plans and policy, said it's important not to downplay the impact of extremists and terrorists. "It's still dangerous and violent there," he said.
Violence remains concentrated in four of Iraq's 18 provinces, particularly in the Anbar province. But Renuart noted "substantial improvement even in the toughest locations."
Iraq's security forces are increasingly taking the lead in counterinsurgency operations and taking control of their own battlespace. "Iraqi forces are increasingly putting an Iraqi face on the counterterrorism operations, and they are doing it well," Renuart said.
As of mid-May, 111 Iraqi army and special operations battalions are conducting counterinsurgency operations, up 9 percent since the last progress report to Congress. In addition, 71 Iraqi battalions are leading operations, some independently, and 51 battalions now control their own battlespace.
The number of trained and equipped Iraqi forces continues to grow, topping 263,000 at mid-month, the report notes. This includes almost 118,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen, an increase of 11,000 since the February progress report, and more than 101,000 police, up almost 19,000 since February.
These security forces are becoming increasingly multi-ethnic and "beginning to represent the ethnic balance in the country," Renuart said.
Iraq's government is focused on getting militias off Iraq's streets, and Saddam Hussein regime loyalists "are becoming a largely irrelevant entity," Renuart said. The biggest remaining threats are terrorists and foreign fighters, he said.
Iraqis are growing evermore confident of their security forces, as reflected by the increase in intelligence tips since 2005, Rodman noted.
Economically, Iraq is still experiencing ups and downs but shows a general trend toward macroeconomic stability, Rodman said. Its currency remains stable; debt is decreasing; and foreign exchange reserves are well above targets, according to the stability report.
In addition, international support continues to help rebuild the economy.
But Rodman noted "disappointments" in the electricity and energy fields. The availability of electricity remains largely unchanged from the past progress report. Oil production and exports are still below targets, but high oil prices have helped offset revenue losses, the report notes.