By Jamie Findlater
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 15, 2007 - Recent surge operations and a continued commitment to ownership by the Iraqi government are contributing to increased economic progress in Iraq, a senior officer responsible for economic development there said yesterday. During a conference call with online journalists and "bloggers," Army Col. Tracy O. Smith, chief of the Economic Development Branch of Multinational Force Iraq, provided an operational update on economic progress being made in Iraq's provinces. He explained that the recent surge of forces and operations has improved the ability of coalition forces to conduct non-traditional military operations in a number of areas simultaneously, including areas that have provided sanctuary to al Qaeda and other extremists.
Smith went on to detail specific accomplishments, explaining that the mission will take time and determination. "It is a challenging but achievable mission," he said.
He emphasized evidence of increased security capacity, citing the recent holiday commemoration of the death of the seventh imam, in which more than a million pilgrims march to the Kadhimiya shrine in Baghdad each year. Two years ago, nearly 1,000 people were killed during a stampede. This year, security was planned, controlled and executed by the Iraqi security forces, he said.
Smith also talked about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's continued commitment to the rule of law and maintaining a secure area in Bagdad for courts, prisons and police. Maliki has approved $50 million in funding to continue this operation.
Iraqi judges have heard 1,900 cases and completed 150 criminal investigations, Smith said. In addition, 30 Iraqi investigators have graduated from an academy run by the FBI, and detainees are held in the Rule of Law Complex in humane conditions, he said.
Regarding energy capacity in Baghdad, Smith noted the city had eight days of more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity in July, a capacity that's roughly 1,000 more megawatts than typical pre-war levels. Most days in July equaled or exceeded pre-war levels, he added.
Smith also noted recognizable improvements in living conditions for Iraqi citizens, including openings of more shops, gas stations, and even soccer leagues. "The Dura market, one of the biggest markets in Baghdad, was a ghost town before the start of the Baghdad security plan," he noted. "Today, over 300 shops are open in the market."
Smith detailed how these improvements are, in part, a result of the continued commitment and independence of the Iraqi government.
"At the provincial level, local leaders and the people in the communities and the neighborhoods taking ownership of their communities is a very encouraging sign," he said, adding that 17 of the 18 provinces have been turned over to provincial governors.
The Iraqi government is working to establish credibility and increase the confidence of Iraqi citizens by improving delivery of public services and tangible economic development, while adhering to a more decentralized form of government. This gives Iraqi citizens an "added confidence and reason to support their local, regional and national governments," Smith explained.
In addition, he pointed out that a larger percentage of Iraqi citizens are now intimately involved with reconstruction efforts. Citing an example of a series of current projects completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Smith explained that seven of nine were led by Iraqi contractors. The projects provided for two hospitals or clinics, two schools, one electric project, one courthouse, one road, one water project, and one rubble-removal project.
These projects will provide 82,000 Iraqis with better medical care, 450 Iraqi children with new schools, and 2,100 with more reliable electricity, he said. Communities are better served by access to potable water, safe travel and cleaner, safer neighborhoods, he said.
For the way forward, "success will require sustained commitment by the government of Iraq and multinational forces," Smith noted. "These forces remain committed to its mission of supporting Iraq's efforts to create the stability necessary to allow political and economic progress.
"Our job here, at least from a military perspective, is to work our way out of a job over time," he said.
For this reason, there must continue to be an interagency effort to work with Iraqi forces to streamline their capabilities and operate independently so that, as confidence increases, security will start to stabilize, Smith said. "It will take time and patience," he explained, "but it's the will of the Iraqi people that's going to make the difference here."
(Jamie Findlater is assigned to New Media, American Forces Information Service.)