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Window of Opportunity Opens for Iraqi People, Official Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2006 – The next seven months are absolutely crucial to how Iraq will turn out, said a senior coalition official this week.

Army Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell, the deputy chief of staff for strategic effects, said during an interview June 13 that there is a window of opportunity right now to ensure Iraq will remain whole and become prosperous.

All players -- the new Iraqi government, U.S. officials and international partners -- agree that with the new government there is a bright opportunity.

"Everything we've done for the last three years has brought us to the present chance," Caldwell said. "We now have a prime minister with his Cabinet in place. We have a window (or opportunity) of five months - maybe seven at the most to effect change. If the people of Iraq don't see a difference in that time, we are going to be extremely challenged come December."

Caldwell said the Iraqi people indicate they are willing to allow the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the benefit of doubt, and they are willing to do the hard work of establishing a new Iraq. "They are willing to accept high civilian casualty rates, long gas lines and accept three to eight hours of electricity per day, but they won't be by December," Caldwell said.

Everyone understands that now is the time to push. The prime minister began June 14 with Operation Together Forward - an Iraqi-led security effort in greater Baghdad. Iraqi soldiers and police have increased the number of checkpoints and traffic-control points in the city. They are in the lead in conducting cordon-and-knock operations and searching for arms caches. Iraqi newspaper accounts give the operation favorable reviews.

Coalition leaders also understand the need to push. He said all is aimed at improving the lives of Iraqi citizens. "If there is ever a need to push it is in the next five to seven months, and then we need to let it evolve after that," Caldwell said.

He said the feeling is the same throughout the Multinational Force Iraq and the U.S. Embassy here. the new government will have the resources it needs to effect change, he said. The government and coalition will work to bring down the civilian casualty rates and improve basic services like electricity, water and sewage.

"If the government can do that I think they will win the support of the people and all Iraqis will have a much brighter future than they ever imagined," Caldwell said.

Nothing is easy in Iraq, and once one problem is solved, three others take its place, the general said. The coalition will work with the Iraqi government to help them think through the process of demobilizing, disarming and reintegrating militia groups.

He said the Iraqis have many good ideas in this area and coalition officials will work to make the ideas real programs. "It is not enough to take arms from a militiaman -- you have to give him a job so he can support his family without resorting to violence," he said.

He said international organizations may be the best option to help the Iraqis with the demobilization process. All of this won't happen overnight, he said.

Getting police into the neighborhoods will also go along way to resolving the security picture in the country. There are systemic problems right now. The police in the field are not getting paid.

The pay problems do not help the effort to develop a professional police force. "The hardest thing is to help the Iraqis develop a professionalism in that police force to where corruption isn't an accepted part of their modus operandi and they are able to rise above corruption," he said. "To do that, you have to make sure they get paid on time and that the pay system is equitable across the country between the army and the police and within the police itself.

"I can't imagine what would happen if the police force in one of our big cities just didn't get paid one month and they were told, 'Don't worry, we'll pay you next month.' And then the next month comes, and they're still not paid."

Yet the Iraqi police face this and they still show up, he said. Creating a central banking system will help this. Now the paymasters come to Baghdad, pick up the money, and go back to the provinces with cash.

Many coalition military officials say the coalition should pay the police rather than wait for the Iraqis to develop a system. Others in the governance side say that approach is short-sighted.

"There's that friction," Caldwell said. "The U.S. military has this 'can-do, let's make it happen now' type attitude. We need to deal with the immediate issue.

"On the U.S. governance side there is more the idea of 'let them learn how to do it.' (The Iraqis) may stumble and fall, they may have some challenges, but over time if we force them to do it themselves, they will learn how to do it."

The disconnect is caused by the fact that the military lives with the Iraqis. "They see the day-to-day need for the people to be paid," he said. "They empathize with them and feel the pain of a young Iraqi police officer who is married and has kids at home, who doesn't have money to buy food."

Caldwell said the Iraqi government is aware of the problem and will work with the coalition to solve it.

Other projects in the works with the Iraqis essentially will dismantle the old Saddam Hussein philosophy of absolute control and replace it with the idea of free enterprise and outside investment, he said. Again, this will take time and concerted work by the Iraqi government and coalition advisers.

"Iraq could become a country that is united, prosperous and a model to this region of what is possible when you let people develop their full potential," Caldwell said. "It would stabilize this very volatile region."

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