WASHINGTON (Dec. 15, 2008) – Progress in East Baghdad is going so well that the area is “beyond counterinsurgency” and into development, U.S. officials with responsibility for the area said Monday.
In a teleconference with Pentagon reporters from Baghdad, Army Col. Mark Dewhurst, commander of the 10th Mountain Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, and Conrad Tribble, who leads the provincial reconstruction team in the area, said security, governance and economic progress has been significant in the political districts of Karrada, Rusafa and New Baghdad.
The unit is partnered with four Iraqi security force brigades that are commanded by highly competent Iraqi brigadier generals, Dewhurst said. “They’ve been working very hard to deliver security and reconciliation and reconstruction to the population over here,” he said. The colonel said the attacks in the area have dropped by half from this time last year. He also said attacks using roadside bombs are down, and people are turning more frequently to Iraqi forces.
“This partnership with the Iraqi security forces has enabled us to increase their capabilities and has led to them receiving many more tips from the Iraqi people that have led to the successful detention of many unaligned extremists and criminals being taken off the streets,” Dewhurst said. “The combined effect of these partnered operations has been the cornerstone in our fight against extremists and other criminals.”
The Iraqi government also is doing a good job of transitioning the “Sons of Iraq” civilian security group into the security forces. With 1,200 Sons of Iraq members in the area, 400 have transitioned to the police, and another 300 are ready to start at the police academy.
The amount of traffic on the streets and the number of new businesses starting up in the area points to the improvement in security, the colonel said. Better security also allows the Iraqi government to provide better basic services such as water, electricity, sewage and trash pick-up.
With security doing well, the focus is shifting to other aspects necessary for success, as the provincial reconstruction team works with Iraqi officials and community leaders to improve governance, political development, business opportunities and reconciliation.
The governance aspect of the effort helps Iraqi leaders develop better and more effective ways of delivering essential services, Tribble explained.
“We do a lot of political development, focusing primarily now on elections and support for parties and candidates, and just in general the electoral process that’s starting … in January of 2009,” he said.
The nine-member team also works on programs focusing on business and economic growth. The team is working to develop local nongovernmental agencies and professional organizations that didn’t exist under Saddam Hussein’s regime, he said.
The team also has programs to support reconciliation in the mixed Christian, Sunni and Shiia neighborhood, he added.
Both men acknowledged a lot remains to be done.
“There’s a lot of things changing on the ground that we still have to get after each and every day with our Iraqi security force partners,” Dewhurst said. “And we are committed to doing that.”
The economic side still has problems, but the government is moving forward on essential services, and the political scene is becoming active with the run-up to elections, Tribble said.
The area has moved beyond counterinsurgency, he said. “That means that our mission has changed a little bit,” Tribble said. “We’re focusing not so much on individual symptoms or specific neighborhoods, but it’s really about the system that is or is not in place to address the issue, whether it’s sewer or water or economic development.”
At the same time, the Iraqis are stepping forward.
“It all boils down to building up the Iraqi capacity to run their city, run their services, manage their economy, manage their whole society in a way that enables us to leave and know that stability and security are going to stay,” Tribble said.