Gates: Economic Development, Reconstruction Needed in Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 1, 2007 The Iraqi government and the coalition must follow up security successes in the country with economic development and reconstruction, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today. (Video)
Gates and Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also spoke about the Iraqi legislature during a Pentagon news conference.
Gates also urged Congress to quickly pass the fiscal 2008 appropriations bill, saying the Army would feel the pinch soonest if the bill is not forthcoming.
If Congress cannot agree on a bill, the department would still need sufficient funding to continue operations, to provide for mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, re-set procurement, and authorization for new contracting, Gates said.
“If this is not part of the bill, the department will have to resort to borrowing money from other accounts to sustain our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that could affect everything from repair and replacement of equipment to quality-of-life programs,” Gates said.
Gates also said the United States still would like to see the Iraqi parliament pass major bills now in front of it. Some of the immediate needs for the bills have dissipated, Gates said. While the United States would like to see a de-Baathification bill passed, the process is already under way, with the Iraqi government recruiting thousands of Sunni Arabs -- the main members of the Baath Party -- for the army and police.
U.S. officials also would like to see a hydrocarbon law passed even though sharing of oil revenue with the provinces is already happening.
Passing these laws and passing legislation on provincial elections would go along way to showing Iraqis that the government is serious about reconciliation, Gates said. “We continue to believe that Iraq needs reconciliation both at the local level and at the national level,” he said. “So we continue to press the Iraqi government to get some of this legislation passed.”
As the political process develops at the local and provincial levels, this is putting pressure on national politicians to act, Gates said.
Gates and Mullen briefed following reports from Baghdad showing that levels of violence in Iraq have dropped significantly in the past four months. “I think we have certainly been successful in significantly improving the security situation in Iraq,” the secretary said. “I would say we need to is continue this effort and ensure that the economic reconstruction and development follows. We clearly have more work to do with the police, as do the Iraqis.”
Gates said continuing army and police training, building governance capability at local, provincial and national levels, and getting reconstruction into neighborhoods are all important. “This is not just about the extraordinary success we’ve had in the security arena and the local reconciliation, but these other elements have to be addressed as well,” he said.
The direction Iraq is heading is certainly more positive than it was six months ago, Gates said. “There are a lot of very positive things happening all around the country,” he said. “We would like to see the national politics keep up with everything else that’s going on.”