OIF Two Years Later: Progress Continues on All Fronts
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 18, 2005 Two years ago today, the clock was ticking on President Bush's ultimatum for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq within 48 hours.
On March 19, 2003, two days after the president's televised ultimatum, coalition forces launched operations to disarm Iraq. "On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war," Bush announced from the White House.
The president said the coalition, which consisted of 35 nations at the time but has since grown to 72, was moving to disarm Saddam and put an end to his bloody regime. "Every nation in this coalition has chosen to bear the duty and share the honor of sharing in our common defense," he said.
Two years later, Iraq is on a new course. The dictator who held the country with a firm grip for 35 years is behind bars.
More than 8 million Iraqis exercised their right to choose their new government Jan. 30. And on March 16, Iraq's new Transitional National Assembly was seated. The assembly will write Iraq's new national constitution, to be ratified in October, followed by national elections in December.
Speaking at a White House press briefing earlier this week, Bush called the assembly's seating "a hopeful moment" for Iraq.
U.S. Central Command officials said Iraq's elections marked a milestone in the country's move toward a representative government. "Jan. 30 in Iraq was a galvanizing event," said a senior CENTCOM official on background. "It didn't end the resistance, but it certainly put a light at the end of the tunnel.
Iraq's security forces continue to grow stronger, boosted by success during the elections, when they provided the critical first and second tiers of security around polling stations around the country.
Bush called the progress being made "positive signs that have taken place in the development of the Iraqi security forces," but acknowledged "there's still work to be done," something he said U.S. allies understand.
Also in Iraq, hundreds of reconstruction projects are under way, providing essential services like electricity and water throughout the country that are considered vital not only to quality of life, but to security in Iraq. Currently, Baghdad gets about 13 hours of electricity per day, with the rest of Iraq receiving about that same amount. "And it's getting better every day," said Marine Corps Col. Patrick Kanewske, CENTCOM's chief of current operations.
Two years into Operation Iraqi Freedom, the coalition remains solid and "is probably healthier and stronger than any other international coalition," according to Marine Corps Col. Kerry Burkholder, deputy chief of coalition operations for U.S. Central Command.
"They are the backbone of everything that has been successful in Iraqi Freedom as well as Enduring Freedom (in Afghanistan)," Air Force Brig. Gen. Doug Raaberg, CENTCOM's deputy director of operations, said last week during a Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service interview at the Pentagon. Their support, Raaberg said, has been "just tremendous."
CENTCOM officials acknowledged that while progress continues in Iraq on many fronts, there's still work ahead.
When he announced the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom two years ago, Bush stressed that the job would not be finished overnight, and vowed that the United States and coalition would remain in Iraq no longer than absolutely necessary.
"The peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you," Bush said in announcing Operation Iraqi Freedom. "That trust is well placed. The enemies you confront will soon know your skill and bravery. The people you will liberate will witness the honorable and decent spirit of the American military."