Bush: Iraq security improvements sets stage for reform
Iraq-USA, Politics, 7/16/2007
US Military operations might dominate the headlines in Iraq, but a second, quiet surge of US-led provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) is helping local communities restore basic services, bridge the sectarian divide and achieve self-sufficiency, the White House conveyed.
The Iraqi government and coalition forces are making progress toward securing the country, laying the groundwork for future steps forward on political reconciliation and key reforms, US President George W. Bush says. "Our strategy is built on the premise that progress on security will pave the way for political progress," Bush told White House reporters July 12.
In May, Congress made additional US military spending in Iraq contingent on 18 indicators, or "benchmarks," designed to evaluate the effectiveness of coalition-trained Iraqi security forces and the performance of the country's elected officials.
Among areas of progress cited in the report, Bush highlighted the deployment of three Iraqi army brigades to support the Baghdad Security Plan, the establishment of joint coalition and Iraqi security stations across the capital Baghdad, successful allocation of $10 billion worth of reconstruction funds, and the increased capability and independence of Iraqi military units working with coalition forces in and around Baghdad to disrupt sectarian militias and terrorist cells.
"Our top priority is to help the Iraqis protect their population," Bush said. "So we've launched an offensive in and around Baghdad to go after extremists, to buy more time for Iraqi forces to develop and to help normal life and civil society take root in communities and neighborhoods throughout the country. We're helping enhance the size, capabilities and effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces, so the Iraqis can take over the defense of their own country. We're helping the Iraqis take back their neighborhoods from the extremists."
West of Baghdad, in Anbar province, Bush pointed to the coalition's success in joining forces with Sunni tribal leaders against al-Qaida in Iraq, which has sought to establish a terrorist safe haven in the region to serve as a base for plotting future attacks in Iraq and beyond.
"The people on the ground there are sick and tired of violence and being threatened by people like al-Qaida who have no positive vision for the future," Bush said. "And there's been a significant turn where now Sunni sheikhs and Sunni citizens are working with the coalition to bring justice to al-Qaida killers."
It is a formula that coalition forces already are replicating in other unstable provinces, such as Diyala, Bush added.
"Those of us who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism," he said.
On eight other congressionally identified indicators, Bush acknowledged that more progress is needed. For example, on the political front, the Iraqi parliament needs to redouble its efforts on election laws, on legislation to distribute equitably Iraq's energy revenues and on measures to allow former members of the Baath party to return to the work force.
The report also raises concern about political interference with army and police operations as well the need for more Iraqi security forces to operate independently.
After decades of tyranny that exploited divisions between Iraq's Shia majority and its Sunni Arab minority, such reforms are difficult but essential for the future of Iraq and the wider region, Bush said.
"Living under the brutal tyrant Saddam Hussein created a lot of anxiety and a lot of tensions and a lot of rivalry. And it's going to take a while to work it through," Bush said.
"I want the Iraqi government to understand that we expect there to be reconciliation," Bush said, "that we'd want to see laws passed. I think they've got that message. They know full well that the American government and the American people expect to see tangible evidence of working together. That's what the benchmarks are aimed to do."
On two other benchmarks -- developing an amnesty process for former insurgents and disarming militias -- the report finds that current conditions preclude decisive action.
The report, Bush said, serves as a snapshot of the conflict's current status to be compared against a more substantive report in September, when coalition commander General David Petraeus and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker will assess how the increased military presence and regional diplomatic engagement have helped shape conditions on the ground.
"By that time, we hope to see further improvement in the positive areas, the beginning of improvement in the negative areas," Bush said. "We'll also have a clearer picture of how the new strategy is unfolding, and be in a better position to judge where we need to make any adjustments."
"As part of our strategy to succeed in Iraq," US President George W. Bush said the next day, "I not only reinforced our military efforts with more troops, we also surged civilians to work with our military to help the reconciliation efforts in a country that is still recovering from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein."
Bush spoke to White House reporters following a videoconference with Ambassador Ryan Crocker and PRT members in Baghdad, Iraq.
The teams include US soldiers and civilian experts in fields as diverse as law, economic development, agriculture, engineering and urban planning. Teams are tailored to fit the needs of the Iraqi communities they serve. According to a July 13 White House fact sheet, the teams are considered an essential component of the US-Iraqi counterinsurgency strategy, helping the Iraqi people expand stable areas and promoting self-reliance.
In Ninewa, a PRT helped establish the Mosul branch of the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, which has tried 173 terrorism cases and brought 96 militants to justice. In Diyala, the PRT joined forces with area residents to renovate the Baqubah General Hospital, adding a special unit dedicated to infant and child health care. The Baghdad PRT has helped fund 42 projects totaling $81 million to help rebuild the capital.
There are 20 PRTs operating in Iraq, double the number in 2006, after the addition of 10 new teams operating alongside coalition brigade combat teams deployed in and around the Iraqi capital as part of the "surge" strategy. Personnel have increased from 290 to 600, with new volunteers arriving daily.
US soldiers and civilians also are engaged in several coalition-led PRTs, including the British operation in Basra, an Italian team in Dhi Qar and a South Korean effort in Erbil. Four additional PRTs are planned for the capital region and one more in the southwest, which will bring the total to 25 PRTs.
The teams are bolstering moderate Iraqis by identifying local leaders who reject violence, then helping them communicate more effectively with the national government. The teams help these leaders identify essential projects and channel reconstruction money into those projects.
By fostering improved communication between national and provincial authorities, PRTs are designed to help heal the Sunni-Shiite rift, which has been exacerbated by decades of tyranny and exploited by foreign terrorists to encourage sectarian violence.
"These people at the grassroots understand that most Iraqis want to live in peace and that, with time, we'll be able to help them realize that dream," Bush said.
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