By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
May 22, 2007 – Coalition and Iraqi security forces have made great improvements to the security situation in Iraq's Anbar province, opening the door for political developments and partnerships, a top U.S. general in the region said today. "Now is the time, with the improvement in security in the province, to expand our contact to grow closer with the central government in Baghdad and with the provincial government in the province, to grow closer to the municipalities throughout the province, and we're doing that on a regular basis by visiting the municipalities," Army Brig. Gen. John Allen, deputy commanding general of Multinational Division West, said at a news conference in Baghdad.
Allen and Anbar Gov. Mamoun Sami Rashid al-Awani were in Baghdad to meet with U.S. agencies and Iraqi ministries about the way forward in Anbar. Awani said that chief among his concerns for the meetings was rallying support from the central government ministries, such as the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Oil, for solving local problems in Anbar.
Dynamic changes are happening in Anbar province, with the local population rejecting al Qaeda and a swell in U.S. and Iraqi forces, Allen said. There are still security issues to deal with, but Iraqi and coalition forces are working together every day and achieving successes against terrorists, he said.
"I report progress today in the Anbar province, and I also report a sense of optimism," Allen said. "But what we call 'Team Anbar,' which is the U.S. interagency working closely and in partnership with our Iraqi colleagues, we expect to continue the progress and we expect to continue this opportunity for political and economic development."
Allen also noted the progress in talks between the local government and the "Anbar Awakening," the group of tribes and former insurgents against al Qaeda. Discussions that three months ago would have centered on security and terrorism are now focused on the future and on political and economic developments, he said.
"Yes, there are security issues, but when I watch our friends talk about the future, that's a very positive thing," he said.
Terrorist groups like al Qaeda use false slogans that used to mislead the citizens of Anbar, Awani said. However, the people began to see through the terrorists' tactics and are now turning against them and joining the security forces in droves, he said.
"When the people started to see that this mask has fallen and these slogans are all false and that (the terrorists) came just to destroy the country and to destroy the infrastructure and especially targeting the innocent people, so the people -- and many of the developments that we've done and talks that we started with the people in Anbar -- this changed the equation from a negative to a positive point," Awani said through a translator.
The influx in the number of Anbar citizens joining the security forces is an indicator of progress in the region, Allen said. These Iraqi security forces are partnered strongly with coalition forces, conducting joint operations and frequently sharing living spaces, he said.
"Our partnership is close; it is improving the ability of the people to live securely, because Iraqi police by the thousands are in the neighborhoods now, and they separate the people from the insurgents," Allen said. "With the surge, ... we have benefitted in the Anbar province by an increase in coalition forces, which has permitted us, along with the Iraqi police and the Iraqi security forces, to have significant security presence in all off the principal population centers in the Anbar province."
Allen and Awani both said that al Qaeda has been driven from almost all the major population centers in Anbar. In the coming months, al Qaeda will probably be driven out completely, and Iraqi and U.S. forces will focus on reconstruction, Awani said.
Provincial reconstruction teams, small coalition units that work with local Iraqi governments on reconstruction, will be essential to Anbar's future success, Allen said.
"That may be the most important reinforcement that has come to the Anbar province in a very long time, because as we are able, ultimately, to change the security dynamic and pursue economic opportunity, the presence of the U.S. interagency (team in) the Anbar province will facilitate that in a very big way," he said.
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