By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
April 20, 2007 – The top priority for American reinforcements in Iraq is helping Iraq's elected leaders secure their population, President Bush today told high school students in East Grand Rapids, Mich. "Iraqis will not be able to make the political and economic progress they need until they have a basic measure of security," the president said. "Iraq's leaders are committed to providing that security, but at this point, they cannot do it on their own."
Under the president's new strategy for operations in Iraq, he said, American reinforcements have been deployed to go after the terrorists and insurgents who are inciting sectarian violence in Baghdad. American troops are also training and mentoring Iraqi security forces, preparing them to take full responsibility for the security of their own country.
The president said U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, has been carrying out the new strategy for more than two months. Although it's too early to judge its success, he said, first indications show that the operation is meeting expectations.
"There are still horrific attacks in Iraq, such as the bombings in Baghdad on Wednesday," Bush said, "but the direction of the fight is beginning to shift."
Baghdad has been the site of most of the sectarian violence, he said, and the capital city is the destination for most of the U.S. reinforcements. So far, three additional American brigades, totaling about 12,000 troops, have reached the Baghdad area. Another brigade is in Kuwait preparing to deploy, and one more will arrive in Kuwait next month.
"The Iraqi government is also meeting its pledge to boost its force levels in the city," Bush said. "For every American combat soldier deployed to Baghdad, there are now about three Iraqi security forces, giving us a combined total of nearly 80,000 combat forces in the Baghdad area. My point is, is that the American combat forces are not alone in the effort to secure the nation's capital."
Along with increasing the number of troops, Bush said, defense officials are changing their locations. Previously, most troops were at bases on the outskirts of the city. They would move into Baghdad to clear out neighborhoods during the day, and then return to their bases at night.
"The problem was that when our troops moved back to the bases, the extremists, the radicals, the killers moved back into the neighborhoods," Bush said.
The new strategy calls for American troops in Baghdad to live and work side-by-side with Iraqi forces at small neighborhood posts called joint security stations. There are now more than two dozen joint security stations in Baghdad, and more are planned, he said,.
"If a heavy fight breaks out, our forces will step in," Bush said. "And Iraqi forces learn valuable skills from American troops. They fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the finest military ever assembled."
The new strategy gives the Iraqis a chance to get to know the Americans and vice versa, Bush said.
"By living in Baghdad neighborhoods, American forces get to know the culture and concerns of local residents," he said. "Equally important, the local residents get to know them.
"When Iraqi civilians see a large presence of professional soldiers and police patrolling their streets, they grow in confidence and trust," he explained. "They become less likely to turn to militias for protection. People want security in their lives, and they tend to turn to the most apparently effective security force."
Iraqi security forces are growing in maturity and gaining trust, and that progress is important, the president said. "Our men and women in uniform are showing great courage and skill, and that's important to the Iraqi people as well," he said.
"As people gain confidence in the Iraqi and U.S. forces to provide security, they begin to cooperate," he added.
"In fact, Iraqi and American forces have received more tips in the past three months than during any three-month period on record," he noted. "These are tips provided by local citizens about where to find terrorists and insurgents."
Most people, Bush said, want to live in peace, "and if given the opportunity and given the confidence, civilians turn in the terrorists and extremists and murderers to help achieve that peace."
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