By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
March 30, 2007 – Over the last year, coalition forces have laid the foundation for stability and provincial Iraqi control in Anbar province, the commander of Multinational Force West said today. "Our strategy of clear, hold and build, combined with an energized governmental and tribal engagement, is beginning to bear fruit," Marine Maj. Gen. Walt Gaskin told reporters at the Pentagon via satellite.
Progress is evident in the region's increased Iraqi security forces recruiting figures, decreased number of attacks, and in the upswing in economic commerce, he said.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's benchmark visit to the region, Gaskin added, was a large step in the right direction for reconciliation and reconstruction. "We cannot overemphasize the significance of having the prime minister come to an overwhelmingly Sunni chapter of Ramadi," he said.
"An important event which occurred in Ramadi while the prime minister was (here) was the first locally held meeting of the Al Anbar Provincial Council in 11 months," the commander said. "The council adjourned last spring from Al Anbar because of security concerns. This dialogue makes me very hopeful for the future of the province."
Anbar governance, Gaskin said, is beginning to function independently. Residents there are starting to put in place city mayors and provincial and municipal governorships, all of which are helping to stimulate economic development and provide input to the council.
Public sentiment toward al Qaeda in Iraq has shifted from "tolerance to open hostility" in the province, the general said.
"Anbar is different than the other 17 provinces in Iraq," Gaskin said, describing the unique challenges in Anbar. "It is predominately Sunni, the main threat that we have is al Qaeda in Iraq, and what we see is that once we gain the peace and stability into the major cities, then we can work on ... pushing al Qaeda out."
Purging al Qaeda elements from Anbar cities requires three important aspects, including "getting the Iraqi police into the cities, getting the Iraqi army in support of the police (and) getting the coalition forces in overwatch," he said.
Many tribal sheikhs, a highly influential sector of Anbar society, believe reconstruction strategy is consistent with the principles of human rights, the rule of law and due process, and are encouraging young Iraqi men to enlist in Iraqi security forces, Gaskin said.
"It is with their permission and courageous leadership that the men of Al Anbar join the Iraqi army and the police," he said. "With the support of the local tribal leaders, the capabilities of the security forces are growing. The terrorists are finding it increasingly difficult to operate and hide within the civilian population."
There are about 2,500 members of the various emergency relief units, 13,200 police officers and 13,000 Iraqi army soldiers, alongside about 35,000 men and women of Multinational Force West currently serving throughout Anbar, Gaskin said.
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