By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 18, 2007 - Iraqi government development at the community level is progressing even as American and Iraqi forces launch a new offensive targeting terrorists fleeing the major cities for refuge, President Bush said today in his weekly radio address. Bush said that as the surge in combat operations continues, so does a surge by provincial reconstruction teams that have helped rebuild many local governments in areas that once were considered lost to terrorist control. The number of the reconstruction teams has doubled in the country, he said.
"They bring together military, civilian, and diplomatic personnel to help Iraqi communities rebuild infrastructure, create jobs, and encourage reconciliation from the ground up. These teams are now deployed throughout the country, and they are helping Iraqis make political gains, especially at the local level," Bush said.
"In Anbar province, at this time last year," Bush noted, "the terrorists were in control of many areas and brutalizing the local population. Today, the provincial council in Ramadi is back, and last month provincial officials re-opened parts of the war-damaged government center with the help of one of our PRTs."
Bush credits the local citizens' resolve with ridding their communities of the terrorists.
"Local sheikhs joined with American forces to drive the terrorists out of Ramadi and other cities. Residents began to provide critical intelligence, and tribesmen joined the Iraqi police and security forces," he said.
The rule of law is restored in Anbar, he said. Cities and towns in the province now have mayors and functioning municipal councils. Criminal trials are set to resume and provincial reconstruction team leaders report cities are seeing "new construction, growing commercial activity, and an increasing number of young men volunteering for the Iraqi army and police."
Bush cited similar progress in other provinces, such as in Muthanna, Diyala and Ninewa.
The president conceded, however, that politics at the national level in the country has not kept similar pace. He said the Iraqi government has many important measures left to address, such as reforming the de-Baathification laws, organizing provincial elections, and passing a law to formalize the sharing of oil revenues.
Still, Bush said, the Iraqi parliament has passed about 60 pieces of legislation, and, despite the lack of oil revenue law on the books, more than $2 billion in oil revenue has been allocated for the provinces. The Shiia-led government is sharing a significant portion of these oil revenues with Sunni provincial leaders, he said.
"America will continue to urge Iraq's leaders to meet the benchmarks they have set. Yet Americans can be encouraged by the progress and reconciliation that are taking place at the local level," Bush said. "And as reconciliation occurs in local communities across Iraq, it will help create the conditions for reconciliation in Baghdad as well."
Meanwhile, U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces this week launched a new offensive called Phantom Strike targeting terrorists and extremists fleeing Baghdad and other key cities. And, in recent months, American and Iraqi forces have struck powerful blows against al Qaeda terrorists and violent extremists in Anbar and other provinces, Bush said.
But, Bush said, the terrorists remain "dangerous and brutal," as demonstrated this week by coordinated attacks in northwestern Iraq against members of the Yazidis, a small Kurdish-speaking sect. Four suicide truck bombers struck nearly simultaneously in two villages near the Syrian border. More than 200 were killed, according to reports.
"Our hearts go out to the families of those killed, and our troops are going to go after the murderers behind this horrific attack," Bush said.