Iraq Making Progress Despite Violence, U.S. General Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2006 Iraq continues to make meaningful progress despite a recent spike of violence in Baghdad and some other parts of the country, the senior U.S. troop commander in Iraq said today.
“The Baghdad security plan continues to have a dampening effect on sectarian violence,” Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told reporters at a Baghdad news conference. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad accompanied Casey at the briefing.
U.S., coalition and Iraqi troops continue to work aggressively to further reduce violence in the capital and elsewhere in Iraq, Casey said.
Extra U.S. troops dispatched to Baghdad “have had a decisive effect,” he said. Iraqi security forces operating in and around Baghdad also are making significant contributions in reducing the violence, he added.
U.S. officials have worked with the new Iraqi government to develop “a political program to address the critical issues dividing the country,” Casey said. He added that the United States supports Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s national reconciliation initiative that aims to ease tensions between Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite factions. Efforts also are under way to bring some resistance elements into the Iraqi political process and therefore reduce the violence, Casey said. Work also is being accomplished to address the key issue of illegal militias.
“Resolution of the militia issue will require an integrated political-military effort. And, we are working with the government of Iraq to do that,” the general said.
Meanwhile, efforts to improve the capabilities of Iraqi soldiers and police are continuing as senior leaders seek ways to bolster force protection for American troops, Casey said.
Iraqi soldiers had once looked to U.S. troops to take the lead in operations, Casey recalled. Today, six out of the 10 Iraqi divisions are forward deployed, he noted, while 30 out of the 36 Iraqi brigades are in the lead. Almost 90 of the 112 Iraqi battalions are in the lead. Today, U.S. forces operate in support of these Iraqi formations, Casey said.
“The Iraqi security forces are in the fight” for Iraq, Casey emphasized, noting that 300 Iraqi soldiers were killed in recent fighting over the Ramadan religious holiday period.
The ultimate goal regarding Baghdad is to make the city’s citizens feel safe in their neighborhoods, Casey noted. Yet, he emphasized, this “is not something that is going to happen overnight.”
Regarding Iraqi economics, Casey observed it had taken decades of neglect by Saddam Hussein’s regime to degrade Iraq’s infrastructure. Today, “building is what Iraq needs,” he said. “And we have committed $400 million already to projects in support of the Baghdad (economic) effort.” Another $600 million in additional economic funding will kick in over the next few months, he added.
Iraq isn’t “awash in sectarian violence,” Casey said. Most sectarian violence in Iraq is concentrated across a 30-mile radius around Baghdad, and, 90 percent of all violence in Iraq is taking place in five of the country’s 18 provinces.
The general also took the opportunity to praise U.S. servicemembers in Iraq. America should be proud of its servicemen and women serving in Iraq, Casey said, noting U.S. forces have never lost a battle there after more than three years of war. “You can be confident that our servicemen and women are well-trained, well-equipped and well-led,” Casey said.
He also predicted victory over insurgent forces in Iraq. “We will succeed in Iraq,” the general said, “but it will take patience, courage and resolve from all of us.”