By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Sep. 1, 2006 – Violence in Iraqi is up, but there has been progress on the political and economic fronts, according to the Defense Department's quarterly report to Congress, released today. The report measures stability and security in Iraq, looking at political, economic and security progress in the nation. Officials called it a "sober report that lays it all on the table."
The Feb. 22 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra is Abu Mussab Zarqawi's "legacy" to the Iraqi people, said Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. Rodman and Rear Adm. Bill Sullivan, the Joint Staff's vice director for strategic plans and policy, spoke to reporters about the report, and conditions in Iraq.
Zarqawi - the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq - wanted a civil war between Sunni and Shiia Arabs in the nation. The bombing of the Golden Mosque certainly spurred sectarian violence to the point that DoD officials now regard it as a greater threat than Al Qaeda in Iraq. "Since the Samarra bombing in February, we've seen an increase in sectarian violence. We all know that and this report discusses it," Rodman said.
On the political side, the last quarter saw the national government getting on its feet, the assistant secretary said. In June, the parliament approved the three national security ministers, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki introduced a national reconciliation plan to the Council of Representatives and the council began tackling legislation particularly in the economic area. "The point is that you have a national government that is functioning," Rodman said. "It is a national government that includes the leaders of all the major communities."
The fact that the national government is functioning is "one relevant data point" that shows Iraq is not engaged in a civil war, he said. The Iraqi economy is moving along. Estimates put gross domestic product growth in the country at about 4 percent for the year. "The economy is not performing as we hoped it would, but there is modest growth," Rodman said.
Crude oil exports are up, as well as electricity generation. Rodman said that roughly 80 percent of the citizens of Baghdad have access to private generators. The major change noted in the report, compared to the last one, is on the security side. "Our commanders on the ground call the security situation in Iraq today the most complex it's ever been since the beginning of the war," Sullivan said.
Violence is up, with most of the incidents being Iraqi-on-Iraqi attacks in and around Baghdad. Most of the attacks are in only four of the 18 provinces, the report notes. Fourteen provinces remain fairly peaceful and in one - Muthanna in the south -no coalition forces are operating. Sullivan said training and equipping of Iraqi forces continues on track. Iraqi security forces are at about 278,000 trained and equipped in the Iraqi Army, National Police and local police. This is an increase of about 14,000 since the May report, he said.
What's more, Iraqi forces are assuming the lead in their areas. This allows coalition forces to take a more supporting role. "There are currently five Iraqi divisions, 25 brigades and 85 battalions that are in the lead in their areas," Sullivan said. "This is a 32 percent increase since the last report."
Coalition trainers in Iraq are now focusing their attention on combat support, combat service support capabilities - medical, logistics, maintenance and so on. "That will allow the Iraqis to be more independent in their operations," Sullivan said. "There is also a focus on improving the capabilities of the Ministry of Defense and the Interior Ministry which is required over the long for the Iraqis to assume full responsibility."
The report speaks about the danger Iraqi militias play. "We share government's concern about the militias," Rodman said. "They undermine the central authority of the government and in some cases they are providing services to local populaces and something needs to be done about them."
The assistant secretary said the report gives a balanced picture of the overall security situation. Al Qaeda in Iraq is still a threat. Insurgents are still a threat. Tribal disagreements and criminal gangs are still a threat, he said. "But politically, the preoccupation we have now is the sectarian violence," Rodman said. "The issue we're all focusing on is the sectarian violence because it poses a more serious danger to the structure of stability which depends so much on government institutions."