CENTCOM Officials Cite Prongs to Iraq Success
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., Mar. 15, 2005 Continued progress in Iraq requires a four-pronged approach that will create conditions where a representative government operates freely in a secure, economically viable environment, U.S. Central Command officials here told the American Forces Press Service.
Assessing progress on the eve of the second anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the officials agreed that four components are vital to continued success:
- A secure environment free of the threats posed by insurgents, extremists and others who aim to disrupt progress;
- A representative government with its associated government institutions in place;
- Improved infrastructure and economic opportunity that gives the Iraqi people essential services such as electricity and water, as well as the jobs necessary to provide for their families; and
- A system of communications in which the Iraqis - not the coalition or international community - communicate their nation's goals and aspirations to the Iraqi people.
While each factor is key to forward momentum, all must move forward together for long-term success.
Officials said progress continues in helping to overcome the insurgency in Iraq and in beefing up Iraq's security forces so they are able to play an increasing role in their country's security.
During counterinsurgency operations, the rate of attacks against coalition forces has spiked, then ebbed, several times. Since Iraq's Jan. 30 elections, there's been a noticeable dip in attacks against coalition troops, officials noted, and those attacks have generally been through stand-off means, such as mortars and indirect fire.
However, officials acknowledged dramatic, headline-grabbing attacks against Iraqi citizens, aimed at breaking their will, continue.
"With regards to the Iraqi population, the enemy strategy is one of intimidation," said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, CENTCOM's deputy director for plans and policy. And many Iraqis, he said, "remain sitting on the fence" to see who ultimately wins that fight.
The coalition will always have more troops and equipment than the insurgents, he noted. But the tipping point will be when the Iraqi forces are able to handle the fight. Until that point, the coalition remains dependent on solid intelligence, and the Iraqi people remain the best source of that intelligence. And that requires the Iraqi people to be willing to come forward with information - something Kimmitt acknowledges is a lot more likely if they're reporting to their own security forces rather than to coalition forces.
Efforts to prop up, equip and train Iraq's security forces are progressing steadily, according to Marine Corps Col. Patrick Kanewske, CENTCOM's chief of current operations.
"There have been some growing pains, but they have really come along," Kanewske said. "They're not afraid to stand up for their country any more."
Meanwhile, Iraq's elections marked a milestone in the country's move toward a representative government. "Jan. 30 in Iraq was a galvanizing event," said a senior CENTCOM official on background. "It didn't end the resistance, but it certainly put a light at the end of the tunnel."
The next critical step, scheduled for March 16, will be the seating of Iraq's Transitional National Assembly. This assembly will write Iraq's new national constitution, to be ratified in October, followed by national elections in December.
Officials said they expect Iraq's Sunni population, largely nonplayers in the Jan. 30 elections, to become increasingly involved in the political process as it moves forward. "They desperately want to be players with a voice in the government," a senior official said on background.
At the same time, the coalition and Iraqis are working together to pour billions of dollars into improving Iraq's infrastructure. "We didn't realize how badly the infrastructure had decayed under Saddam Hussein," the official said. "Iraq's infrastructure - its oil, water and electricity - were rubber-banded and glued together."
Ultimately, infrastructure becomes a security issue, Kanewske pointed out. People who perceive that the coalition and Iraqi government can't bring them quality-of-life essentials may shift their loyalties to those they believe can - even if they really can't, he said.
Currently, Baghdad gets about 13 hours of electricity per day, with the rest of Iraq receiving about that same amount. "And it's getting better every day," Kanewske said.
As critical as electricity and water are to Iraqis' quality of life and confidence in their future, just as important is their economic progress. Lack of jobs, education and opportunity feed the conditions exploited by extremists, and "the Iraqi authorities and the coalition are working to provide a viable alternative," Kimmitt said.
That's a message the Iraqi leadership is communicating to the Iraqi people, he said.
The June 28, 2004, transfer of sovereignty, and the Jan. 30 elections represented "a sea change" in terms of Iraq's responsibility for its own destiny, Kimmitt said.
On June 28, Kimmitt said, the Iraqis, not the international community, became the most important audience in Iraq. Accordingly, no longer were Coalition Provisional Authority and U.S. leaders conducting near-daily press briefings from Baghdad. "And if you are going to address the right audience, you have to do it with the right voices" - Iraqi voices -- Kimmitt noted.
But while ensuring the Iraqis take the lead in their country - politically, economically and for security - Kimmitt said it's also important at the two-year milestone of Operation Iraqi Freedom that Americans maintain their focus.
That focus, Kimmitt said, is provided to the U.S. troops through a clear and focused mission in Iraq. Equally important, he added, is the continued support of the American people, the government and the Congress - something he said should never be taken for granted.