By Donna Miles
Dec. 18, 2006 – Increased violence in Iraq threatens, but so far has failed, to stop progress on the political and economic fronts and in building Iraq's security forces, according to the Defense Department's latest quarterly report to Congress, released today.
DoD delivered "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" to Congress today. The report, the sixth report of its kind, evaluates political stability, economic activity, the security environment, and security force training and performance between mid-August and mid-November.
Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told Pentagon reporters today that escalating violence is destabilizing what he said he once considered the "strategic prize in Iraq": momentum in its political process.
All hopes were for 2006 to be the year Iraq's new government would get on its feet, Rodman said. However, he pointed to the Samarra Golden Mosque bombing, and the cycle of sectarian violence it sparked, as giving "partial strategic success" to insurgents that they previously couldn't achieve.
As a result, Iraq's new government, under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is embroiled in a struggle as it strives to be "a rallying point for the moderate center," Rodman said.
"Our job is to help the Maliki government succeed," a process that demands an effective national reconciliation, he said. Rodman cited several recent Maliki initiatives that offer hope, but emphasized that obstacles remain.
While citing challenges confronting the Iraqi government, the Iraq progress report also notes the government's willingness and ability to take over responsibility and deliver essential services, and the Iraqi security forces' assumption of more leadership in counterinsurgency and law enforcement operations.
This progress is notable, the report recognizes, particularly in light of escalating violence in some of Iraq's most populated regions. Attacks increased 22 percent during the three-month reporting period. Although 68 percent of those attacks were directed at coalition forces, Iraqis suffered most of the casualties, according to the report.
Slightly more than half those attacks occurred in Baghdad and Anbar provinces, and most of Iraq's other provinces remained in relative peace. Outside the "Sunni Triangle," more than 90 percent of Iraqis reported feeling "very safe" in their neighborhoods, the reported noted.
Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff, cited progress in preparing Iraq's security forces to meet their country's security challenges.
Training and equipping of Iraq's security forces is "on course," at 323,000 troops, and will reach the 325,000-person goal by the year's end, he said. The report notes that 45,000 Iraqi soldiers and police completed their initial training and equipping during the last quarter.
Of these troops, about 280,000 are considered "available for duty," Sattler said, noting that 30 percent of the force is on leave at any given time to take their pay to their families. "It's a continuous cycle ... (and) a fact of life."
These troops are increasingly taking the operational lead, despite the challenges they face, the report notes. "The nature of the high has changed dramatically since we started building the Iraqi security forces," Sattler said.
Six division headquarters, 30 brigade headquarters and 91 Iraqi army battalions are currently in the lead -- up from five divisions, 25 brigades and 85 battalions reported in the last quarterly progress report, released Sept. 1.
In addition, 94 Iraqi army, special operations combat forces and strategic infrastructure battalions are fully independent or in the lead with coalition support. That's up from 24 in June 2005.
The report emphasizes the importance of speeding up training to ensure that Maliki has more capable forces able to fight terrorists and death squads while providing security and stability for the country.
Maliki shares the United States' recognition that escalating sectarian violence "has to be squashed," Sattler said. "To break the cycle of violence, extremists on both sides have to be taken head-on and brought to justice."
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