By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 2, 2007 – While the situation in Iraq is challenging, it is "winnable," U.S. Navy Rear Adml. Mark Fox told a group of online journalists and bloggers yesterday during an operational update by telephone. Fox, who has flown combat and contingency missions over Iraq in Operations Desert Storm, Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom, is now communications director for Multi-National Force, Iraq.
"Sectarian violence is now the gravest threat to our strategic objectives in Iraq, and to be honest, Iraq is a more complex strategic problem entering 2007 than it was this time last year," he said. However, he noted, he's seen cause to believe the struggle is winnable.
"I draw hope from the fact that we are joined, not opposed, by the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people in this struggle," Fox said. "In polling conducted in November, 89 percent of Iraqis nationwide agreed with the statement: 'My first loyalty is to my country rather than my sect, ethnic group, or tribe.'"
Fox said he's pleased to be "working in partnership with the liberated people of Iraq as they work to build a stable, secure, and self-governing country." The fact that more Iraqis are joining police forces is cause for optimism, he said.
In December, 1,115 Iraqi men signed up to join the Police Forces. "To put this in context," Fox said, "eight months ago we had zero recruits from Ramadi. In one month, over 600 tribesmen in Ramadi alone qualified for enlistment."
In December, he added, Multinational Force officials restored responsibility for security in Najaf Province to Provincial Iraqi Control.
"Last week, Iraqi forces in Najaf detected and assessed a significant security threat, realized they were outnumbered and facing an entrenched enemy, and did exactly what American forces are trained to do in that tactical situation: call for airpower," he said. "In the end, we killed 262 anti-Iraqi forces, and captured 411. We also recovered 11 mortar systems and enough heavy machine guns to show this was not a group of pilgrims."
Fox attended a city council meeting in Fallujah that he described as raucous and disorganized. He said council members had some significant points of contention. "But it demonstrated even if the Iraqis are not at the levels of Jeffersonian democracy yet, they are eager to find solutions to their problems."
The Iraqi economy is also showing positive signs, Fox said.
"Each time I travel outside the International Zone, I'm amazed that virtually every house in Baghdad has a satellite dish on the roof," he said. "While everybody focuses on the violence in Baghdad, rural Iraq has experienced a post-Saddam boom that is employing and putting cash in the pockets of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi families."
Fox cautioned, however, that it's important to have realistic expectations about short-term progress.
"First, it will take some time for the effects of the additional troops being deployed to take hold," he said. "Second, although (U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David) Petraeus brings unparalleled experience and wisdom to this fight, Iraq's problems are systemic, and will not be turned around immediately in February and March."
Fox went on to highlight what he called "one of the most important intangibles" that doesn't make it through the mainstream media filter: "the sense of mission, and the morale of the people who are serving here.
"It's not every day that you have the opportunity to leave your fingerprints on great work," Fox said. "And this is one of those times where everybody that's here understands what an incredibly important mission we're engaged in.
"We're also focused on this mission to the point where we understand the vast majority of the American people support everything about the military," he continued. "And the people who disagree with the nature of the political decisions that brought us here, we still appreciate the fact that those people also support the military."
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