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General Cites Significant Strides in Iraq's Anbar Province

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2006 – The past year has yielded major growth in Iraqi security forces and significant political progress in Iraq's Anbar province, and 2006 will give the people there a chance to enjoy the benefits of that progress, a top U.S. commander in Iraq said today.

In April, only two Iraqi army brigades were operating in Anbar, and now there are two divisions that comprise almost 20,000 soldiers, Marine Maj. Gen. Stephen Johnson, commander of Multinational Force West and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), said while briefing Pentagon reporters via satellite. Iraqi army battalions are bearing an increasingly larger share of the counterinsurgency fight, and border forces are active at recently completed forts along Iraq's border, he said.

In the December election, Anbar saw an increase in the number of Sunnis who voted, despite the threat of insurgent attacks, Johnson said.

"The people have shown their resolve by participating in a new and unfamiliar process, but one that offers hope for the citizens of Iraq," he said.

Though an insurgent presence remains in Anbar, the violence will decrease as the political process progresses, Johnson said.

"That process will allow people to see that they have the opportunity for success, that they have the opportunity to be heard, and that there are alternatives to violence," he said.

Because of the recent election and an increased coalition and Iraqi presence throughout Anbar, conditions are favorable for change, Johnson said. Increasing numbers of Iraqis are giving the political process a chance because they want an alternative to the violence and sectarian strife that has plagued them, he said.

One of the most important things that will create a stable environment in Anbar is the reintroduction of police, Johnson said. Fallujah was the first town to reintroduce police, and its force soon will reach its authorized strength of 1,700, he said. In the rest of the province, police stations are being identified and repaired, and people are being screened and recruited as policemen, he said.

"The reintroduction of a professional police force in al Anbar will provide local leaders with security and stability that they need to take care of their own," he said.

No Iraqi units in Anbar are operating independently, Johnson said, but more are taking the lead in operations and over the next few months will grow in size and capability. When they are ready to operate on their own depends on how long the units have been together and their level of training, he said.

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Maj. Gen. Stephen Johnson, USMC

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2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward)/Multinational Force West

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