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Iraq Progress Continues, But More Work Ahead, Official Says

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 24, 2003 – U.S. and coalition forces are "an amazing group" that is "doing a magnificent job," enduring hardships and risks as they continue to make steady progress in Iraq, a senior defense official said.

Speaking on background to reporters, the official said much work lies ahead as troops help rebuild Iraq and move the country toward democracy.

The best way to continue this momentum, he said, is to remain on the offensive, take the fight to the enemy, internationalize the effort as much as possible, and accelerate Iraq's assumption of responsibility for its affairs.

"We're also anxious to learn more from the Iraqis about how we can accelerate the assumption of responsibility for their own affairs, for their security, for their economy, for their governance," he said, "because that is really the key to success."

Critical to the process, he said, is the rebuilding of the Iraqi security force.

More than 80,000 Iraqis now serve as police, facilities protection forces, border guards, and members of the new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. In fact, Iraqi forces now make up the second-largest component in the coalition not only, the official said, in terms of numbers in the field, but also by the numbers who are fighting and dying.

Since June 1, 82 Iraqis have been killed in action, he said.

Working with the police, the civil defense corps recently arrested armed radicals who had taken over the mosque in Karbala, the official said. They also uncovered a bomb planted in a Baghdad tunnel earlier this week.

"They're doing very, very important work, dangerous and risky work and that is appropriate, because it is their country," the official said.

"That is the basic principle, that the Iraqis should be responsible for their country, but not doing it all themselves," he said.

Just as critical as training up the new security force, the defense official said, is the process of establishing the judicial system. "No number of police will do the law enforcement job for you if you don't have courts and jails," he said. "It's a three-legged stool. You have to have all three legs."

Meanwhile, the official said U.S. and coalition forces are continuing to make steady progress in rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure. Particular attention is focused on providing electricity throughout Iraq a critical factor with a direct impact on the country's security, its economy and the satisfaction of its citizens, he said.

What he called "a noticeable speed-up" in the process began after the Army Corps of Engineers, working largely with Iraqi workers, took over the effort in September. Last month, electricity levels exceeded pre-war levels of 4,400 megawatts, the official said.

"A lot of progress has been made already, and that's very significant," the official said, acknowledging that a great deal of work still lies ahead. He said he was optimistic that more countries will join the 32 other coalition partners committed to rebuilding Iraq.

"It's a difficult task," he said, "but the stakes are enormous."

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