By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 15, 2007 – In spite of understandable skepticism over the fate of ongoing stabilization efforts in Iraq, a top U.S. military official said yesterday, the potential exists for success. Speaking on programs and logistics related to the latest Baghdad security plan, Multinational Force Iraq spokesman Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told bloggers in a conference call from Baghdad that this time through, the necessary factors are aligned to set the conditions that will enable reconciliation and growth in the Iraqi capital and beyond.
"We do see the skepticism out there that exists, because you know some feel like 'OK, here we go again,'" Caldwell said. But he noted that the Iraqi government is living up to its promises this time. "Never before ... did we see this governmental commitment" from the Iraqis.
"They've committed the monies, they've committed the political will, they're committing the forces," he said.
While previous campaigns to secure Baghdad have fallen victim to inadequate participation by the Iraqi security forces, Caldwell said, those issues have been solved. He blamed past problems on an Iraqi force-generation and training structure that did not predict moving Iraqi army troops around the country.
"Literally, battalions disintegrated last year around the July-August time frame, when we tried to move them from around the country into Baghdad," he said. "We just were unable to do so because, one, we never built them to move, which we've been working to correct and will continue to work on." Secondly, he said, the soldiers' mentality was geared toward being a "home guard" force, as opposed to an expeditionary one.
"Now we have them more ready to move," the general said.
And as the Baghdad security push is under way, the general described ongoing political and economic groundwork to enable a quick drive toward national reconciliation once security is established.
Caldwell said that over the past two to three months, his team has worked with other U.S. and Iraqi government offices to dramatically improve coordination and dialogue.
"The amount of engagements we do out talking to insurgent elements, groups of people, different entities, religious groups, organizations, has increased just dramatically," he said. "I mean to the point where we've quadrupled the number of people we have associated with doing that because of the volume of what we do."
As the security situation stabilizes, U.S. and Iraqi officials envision implementing a jobs program combining vocational training, renovation of Iraq's industrial infrastructure and the creation of demand for Iraqi-made goods.
Caldwell said seven technical-vocational training institutions have been set up around the country. "We're working to get some more up to where we can take people off the street, young men especially, and put them into these different programs to give them skill sets," he explained, "and then match it up with the state-owned enterprises that we're trying to get stood up."
The goal, he said, is to get factories "back up on their feet and put these people back to work in long-term jobs programs so that we have job creation going on."
He pointed to a state-owned textiles plant in Najaf as a prime example of success through cooperation. Working with Iraqi leaders, he said, "(We) figured out what was required, worked with them to get the machinery back up and fully operational, identifying the people to bring back to work, getting them funding, and the most important part that we're really finding now is then getting it a market for their product."
That factory, Caldwell said, "just competed for and won a $444 million contract to produce the Iraqi army uniform."
The United States is looking for other avenues to market Iraqi goods, he said, including substituting them in for some existing suppliers to coalition post exchanges.
"It's a major win-win," Caldwell said. "We don't have to then do all the transportation and movement from outside the country into country. (It) reduces the amount of vehicles on the roads, and allows the Iraqis to get back up with a product that we need."
Caldwell noted his team's role in sustaining progress and promoting reconciliation. "We really help facilitate bringing everybody together to sit down and have these discussions, and identify requirements and capabilities and needs, and matching the two together, and then helping push that along until it takes hold and starts moving," he said.
The coalition has the potential to make progress in Iraq, the general insisted, and he thanked the bloggers for their role in disseminating news of that progress.
"Our troops know what's at stake here in Iraq," Caldwell said. "They also know that the American public really supports their efforts here."
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