US general: 2006 decisive year for Iraq
Iraq-USA, Military, 1/7/2006
A US military official assigned to western Iraq says 2006 is shaping up to be another decisive year for the country, and predicts an evolving political process there with a greater emphasis on local elections.
Marine Major General Stephen Johnson, speaking via videoconference from Iraq at the Pentagon January 6, said the recent elections in Iraq and the ongoing presence of US forces in the al-Anbar province have shaped conditions for favorable political change.
Johnson, who is commander for the multinational forces in western Iraq, said not only are conditions ripe for positive change, but they set the scene for "providing Iraqis with an opportunity to take advantage of the choices that are before them."
Asked about the level of violence in the western portion of the country in recent days, especially after a particularly deadly day in Ramadi on January 5, Johnson said insurgents have not maintained a steady level of violence. "I think it has cycled up and down over the course of the last several months that we've been here," he said.
The attack in Ramadi against unarmed civilians seeking to become new police recruits shows "that the anti-Iraqi forces fear progress and... are willing to indiscriminately kill and maim their own people to halt that progress." Still, Johnson said he does not believe that Ramadi is a focal point for the insurgency, but rather reflects localized violence in parts of the city.
Recent coalition and Iraqi military operations in the western Euphrates River Valley have put the insurgency off its stride. Also, "We have dealt a blow to al-Qaida" in Iraq, Johnson said.
The persistent presence of coalition forces at key locations in western Iraq means that the level of violence will be reduced further. "This presence is providing the conditions under which Iraqi policy will be introduced and assist the local governments in assuming a greater role in providing services to their people" in the coming year, he said.
As conditions improve, more police are being added. Johnson said 2006 will be the "year of the police," because there will be an increasing maturation of its forces as they complete basic training and gain experience.
"The reintroduction of a professional police force in al-Anbar will provide local leaders with security and stability that they need to take care of their own," Johnson said. Local police will be introduced in the coming months as their training wraps up and police stations are repaired, he said.
Meanwhile the partnering of US and Iraqi security forces must continue, Johnson said, with logistics and communications support from US forces as needed. As the numbers and readiness of Iraqi forces grow, he predicted, security conditions will improve, as will "opportunities for good governance, reconstruction and economic development." Joint operations in the Euphrates River Valley have made it more difficult for insurgent forces to move around, he added.
Johnston said money will continue to flow into western Iraq for reconstruction projects, which he said, are "very important to improving the conditions in the province." So far, $175 million has been spent on reconstruction efforts.
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