By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 8, 2007 – The surge of U.S. troops into Iraq as part of the Baghdad Security Plan is already having an effect, and Americans need to be patient, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq said here during a June 6 interview. The coalition in Iraq is not where it wants to be, "but we're a lot farther on than we were before," said Navy Rear Adm. Mark Fox.
Elements of the last of five U.S. "surge" brigades are arriving in Baghdad and, all told, more than 28,000 American troops will be part of the surge.
"We are conducting more operations where we haven't operated before," Fox said. "We are seeing an increase in contacts with insurgents and an increase in activity."
The increase in contacts has resulted in an increase in U.S. casualties, he said, but the number of sectarian killings has dropped since President Bush announced the plan in January. There was an increase in violence in May, but Fox attributed it to "greater activity -- engaging more than we have in the past."
The coalition and Iraqi forces are clearing neighborhoods and are holding them. "It will take some time ... to set the conditions now and increase the level of protection for the Iraqi people," he said.
The will of the Iraqi people is a center of gravity for the struggle against extremists.
"Protecting them is key to the way ahead," Fox said. "If you protect the Iraqi people, you have an enormous ally."
The Iraqi people are looking at the example set in Anbar province, Fox said. The sheikhs and tribal leaders are encouraging the people of the mostly Sunni province to cooperate with coalition forces and the Iraqi government, Fox said. The incidents in the country have dropped precipitously.
"The more contact we have with the Iraqi people, the more the people see the Iraqi security forces and the coalition forces are working to protect them, the more interaction with and cooperation from the Iraqi people we will get," the admiral said.
The strategy in Baghdad and other urban centers is focused on joint security stations. The stations allow Iraqi and coalition forces to maintain constant presence and protection in the neighborhoods.
There are currently plans to build 76 stations in greater Baghdad. In them, Iraqi and coalition forces live side by side, Fox said. The coalition forces continue to work with Iraqi soldiers and police officers in training. The two nationalities patrol the neighborhoods together. The Iraqi forces provide the cultural understanding of the neighborhoods.
The permanent presence is allowing the Iraqi and coalition forces to build the neighborhoods. Businesses are returning to the areas, and the building funded by the coalition and Iraqi government pays workers in the neighborhoods to make improvements.
"U.S. forces have won every battle, but military force cannot win the war," Fox said. "Economic, political, diplomatic efforts are needed, and those take time."
These are long-term efforts. "Baghdad is a city the size of Detroit," Fox said. "It will take time for the Iraqi government and coalition to turn these around."
The Iraqi government is holding political discussions with some insurgent groups to get them to buy in to the government, as the Anbar groups did, Fox said.
In other areas of Iraq, city councils are debating the way forward. "It's not Jefferson-and-Madison type democracy," Fox said. "It has a very Iraqi cast to it, but I found it very encouraging to see the people arguing over how to move forward."
Iraqi security forces are making progress, but there are problems with training and loyalty, the admiral acknowledged. The Iraqi Army has to be a national institution, he said, and Iraqi soldiers must put loyalty to the government above loyalty to sect or tribe or region. Again, this will take time, he said.
"There are some strong and good things going on, but there are obviously loyalty and training problems," Fox said. "But I like the trend. I'm seeing more and more indications that the Iraqi security forces are becoming more capable, more confident and more comfortable in operations."
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