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Bush Praises Reconstruction Teams for Building on Iraqi Progress

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2008 – President Bush today hailed provincial reconstruction teams operating in Iraq as vital partners in the strategy that has improved security and helped to create conditions for the Iraqi government to succeed.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden after meeting with PRT members and their brigade commanders, Bush praised the members for progress they’ve helped make possible during the past year and emphasized the important work they’re doing in communities throughout Iraq.

Also participating in the meeting were Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael G. Mullen, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker. They spoke via teleconference to representatives from PRTs and brigade commanders in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Ramadi, and Diyala provinces.

“PRTs are a central part of the new strategy in Iraq that I announced a year ago,” the president said.

He cited the strategy’s three elements: the troop surge into Iraq to protect the Iraqi people from terrorists, insurgents and illegal militias; a surge in offensive operations to drive terrorists and militias from their strongholds; and the so-called “civilian surge” of PRTs.

These teams doubled in Iraq during the past year, with 24 PRTs now serving in all 18 provinces, many embedded with military units to support their operations.

“Their mission is to help strengthen moderate leaders at the local, municipal and provincial levels, providing assistance to help create jobs, deliver basic services and build up local economies,” the president said.

The PRTs help provincial governments make the most effective use of their funding in ways that ensure military successes taking place are followed up by “real improvements in the daily lives of the Iraqi citizens,” he said. These activities are helping Iraqis work together so reconciliation can take place from the ground up and form a foundation for national reconciliation, the president added.

Bush cited examples of PRT operations and successes discussed during today’s meeting.

PRT leaders in Baghdad reported that they have mentored district councils and public works departments in several neighborhoods, have provided funding for generators to help build up local markets, and have supported a micro-grant program to help small businesses reopen across their district in the city.

Leaders in the PRT in Kirkuk told the president they’ve helped broker a settlement that brought Sunnis back into the provincial council after a yearlong boycott. They also helped the provincial government institute a budget, helped local enterprises with small-business loans, and helped establish a major crimes court in the province that provides citizens equal justice under the law.

PRT leaders in Najaf, one of Shiite Islam's holiest cities, reported they're working with Iraqis to build a modern airport so Shiite pilgrims from around the world can travel to the city.

“These PRT leaders briefed us on the changes they're seeing on the ground in Iraq,” Bush said following the meeting. “As they live and work among the Iraqi people, they see the progress that is taking firsthand.”

The PRT leaders reported changes since violence began dropping during the troop surge. “As the security improves, life is returning to normal in communities across Iraq, with children back in school and shops reopening and markets bustling with commerce,” Bush said.

Improvements on the ground in Iraq are creating conditions for U.S. forces to begin returning home, the president said. He noted that an Army brigade combat team and Marine expeditionary unit already have returned home without being replaced, and that four additional BCTs and another Marine battalion will follow suit in the coming months.

As the United States draws down these forces, it will continue pursuing al Qaeda and other extremists in Iraq, the president said. “Our enemies in Iraq have suffered blows in recent months, but … they're still dangerous. They're not yet defeated,” he said.

Bush pointed to yesterday’s terrorist killing of the leader of an Iraqi concerned local citizens group as evidence that the enemy there “remains capable of horrific violence.” He insisted that the United States won’t allow the extremists to get the upper hand.

“We're not going to allow these terrorists to find respite anywhere in Iraq, and we're not going to allow them to regain the strongholds that they've lost,” he said.

Bush called the PRTs an important part of the strategy that ensures terrorists don’t succeed in Iraq and that the Iraqi people are able to live in peace. He praised PRT members who “are helping improve the lives of citizens they never met before” as they serve on the front lines in the war on terror.

“In so doing, they're making this country more secure, and they're helping lay down a foundation for peace,” he said.

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