Progress Continues As Iraqi Freedom Nears Three-Year Mark
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 16, 2006 Three years after a multinational force liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein's regime, steady progress continues to be made in the nation, U.S. military and embassy officials said.
Coalition forces and their governments have worked to establish democracy in Iraq since forces entered Iraq on March 20, 2003. Twenty-six nations are currently supporting operations in Iraq. In all, 35 countries have contributed to the effort there, U.S. Embassy officials in Iraq said.
The multinational coalition also has helped Iraq rebuild its military and police forces. In three years Iraqi security forces have gone from zero to 240,000, an undertaking led by Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.
Of 110 forward operating bases operated by coalition forces at the start of 2005, 33 have now been transferred to Iraqis or closed, according to U.S. Embassy and Multinational Force Iraq reports.
Early in 2005 only three battalions of Iraqi forces owned battle space, or areas of responsibility. Today, two Iraqi army divisions, 10 Iraqi brigades, and 43 Iraqi battalions control areas. Independently operating Iraqi forces routinely account for more than 25 percent of total operations conducted in Iraq, U.S. officials said.
Iraqis have been able to take a proactive role in their nation because of Iraqi forces, U.S. officials said. Iraqi forces helped protect polling sites in Iraq's historic democratic elections. Members of Iraq's security forces gave their lives to protect Iraq's democratic process as they provided the inner rings of security for polling places, officials said.
In response to the need for military medicine arising from a violent insurgency, Iraq's armed forces have trained 458 medics and more than 3,000 combat lifesavers, Multinational Force Iraq officials said. Eight new medical clinics have opened, and another three are nearing completion, and a world-class prosthetic clinic managed by Iraqi army personnel provides state-of-the-art prostheses and rehabilitation to both military and civilian amputees.
Since June 2004, when the Coalition Provisional Authority transferred sovereignty, Iraqis elected an interim government in January 2005, drafted and ratified a constitution, and elected a four-year constitutionally based government in December.
The electoral committee of Iraq calculated that nearly 11.9 million Iraqis, about 75 percent of the population, voted in the December election, an increase of about 4 million voters from the January 2005 elections.
But, U.S. officials note, the increase in voter turnout is not the only indicator that Iraqis want democracy. More and more Iraqis are reporting insurgent activity to coalition officials. Iraqis are increasingly using tip lines, and more than 1,000 calls were received in February, U.S. Embassy officials in Baghdad said.
Electrical service throughout Iraq has increased from four to eight hours a day in March 2003 to 12 hours per day in 2006, despite an increase in demand and attacks on the infrastructure and distribution network, U.S. Embassy officials said. An additional 1.25 million people now have access to potable water that didn't have it under Saddam's regime, and an additional 9.1 million people have access to sewerage facilities, officials said.
Iraq's oil production is back at pre-war levels, running at 2.3 million barrels per day. And school building and renovation using Iraqi and donor funding continues, with 628 new schools currently under construction and 13 more completed between May and October 2005. In the same period, more than 260 school renovations were completed, and another 266 renovation projects are ongoing. More than 3,400 schools have been rehabilitated since 2003, U.S. Embassy officials said.
In a March 13 speech, President Bush told an audience at George Washington University that Iraqis are progressing, but Iraq has a hard road ahead.
"Next week, we will mark the three-year anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In less than three years, the Iraqi people have gone from living under the boot of a brutal tyrant, to liberation, to sovereignty, to free elections, to a constitutional referendum, and last December to elections for a fully constitutional government," Bush said.
"The enemies of a free Iraq are determined -- yet so are the Iraqi people. And so are America and coalition partners. We will not lose our nerve. We will help the Iraqi people succeed. Our goal in Iraq is victory, and victory will be achieved when the terrorists and 'Saddamists' can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks against our nation."