Commander Says Progress Slow but Vital to Iraq Stability
By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 11, 2007 The most powerful weapon in Iraq will be proving to the population that the government is capable of providing essential services and security, a U.S. commander in northern Iraq said today in a news conference. (See Video)
An important task of the government will be competent participation at the provincial level, Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the commander of Multinational Division North, told Pentagon reporters via videoconference. “That confidence will enhance our security operations and enable us to ultimately defeat the enemy,” he said.
Although some of the northern provinces have shown success in working toward conducting their own security, government and economic operations, Mixon said, progress is moving slowly due to a centralized bureaucratic process in Baghdad.
The Nineveh, Kirkuk and Salahuddin provinces have become semi-functional in government and security matters, while the Diyala province is considered non-functional in providing essential services for its people, he said.
“The dedicated members of the (provincial reconstruction teams) are continuing to focus efforts and improve the process through Multinational Division North,” Mixon said.
The general said provincial reconstruction teams are diligently working with the Diyala government to improve over the coming year. He said his troops often transport governors to the central government to force interface with the ministries, prime minister and his deputies.
U.S. forces in the area are continuing to enhance provincial economic progress and reward local support of security operations with the Commanders Emergency Relief Program. Mixon said these have a direct and positive impact in the area. In 2006, more than $125 million was distributed; $75 million has already been dedicated to the provinces in fiscal 2007.
Reconstruction and capital improvements are continuing on a “steady glide path” but are still moving slowly, the general said. He praised efforts in small business and micro-financing in addition to larger projects such as the solid waste management projects and a granary reopening.
Mixon said Iraqi infrastructure, specifically the Baji oil refinery, remains one of his main concerns and challenges. He said that additional management controls should be put in place to enhance petroleum refinement and distribution to the Iraqi people.
The petroleum and electricity issues in the country are related, because distribution and security remain a challenge for both, he said.
While Iraqi troops on the ground have done a good job of securing their areas, Mixon said, they could move farther along if they received more support from above. “In order to get them to a point where they will be able to conduct operations with little to no coalition presence, we have to get the entire system of support moving faster from the central government,” he said.
He cited the security forces as having issues with command and control, logistics, military pay and promotions. These issues could be alleviated if more authority was passed down to provincial levels.
“We can’t think of pulling out of here just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “We need to have a long-term commitment of some form or fashion to ensure security in the region.”
A long-term commitment will enable U.S. forces to continue to work with Iraqi security forces as they have done with other forces in other parts of the world and in the region in the past, he said. It will take a long-term vision rather than a short-term approach.
“We are making progress. It is slow, but we need to continue to move forward,” Mixon said. “What’s going on here is vitally important to the nation and security in the region.”