By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 7, 2007 - The surge has allowed coalition and Iraqi forces to achieve tactical momentum and has given momentum to local reconciliation efforts, but national efforts still lag, the top coalition commander in Iraq said in a letter to servicemembers and civilians of Multinational Force Iraq today. "Up front, my sense is that we have achieved tactical momentum and wrested the initiative from our enemies in a number of areas in Iraq," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus wrote. "The result has been progress in the security arena, although it has, as you know, been uneven."
Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker will testify before Congress on Sept. 10 and 11 on their assessments of the situation in Iraq.
The Petraeus letter is a straight-forward look at the situation in Iraq. The general said al Qaeda, Iranian-supported militias and home-grown extremists continue to launch attacks against coalition and Iraqi forces, although at a reduced level than in months before. American forces contend with hard combat, a high operations tempo, heat and long separations from family and friends. "And we operate against a backdrop of limited Iraqi governmental capacity, institutions trying to rebuild and various forms of corruption," the general wrote.
All this is colored by sectarian discord al Qaeda fomented in 2006. "In spite of these challenges, our operations -- particularly the offensive operations we have conducted since mid-June -- have helped produce progress in many areas on the ground," Petraeus said.
The number of terrorist attacks across Iraq has declined since mid-June, he said. Coalition and Iraqi forces have captured of killed countless terrorists and located a huge number of arms caches.
Local reconciliation is making gains, and local leaders are volunteering to take a stand against extremists. "With growing government of Iraq support, these volunteers are being integrated into legitimate security institutions to help improve local security," he wrote.
These local initiatives are increasing the momentum toward reconciliation and encouraging more Iraqis to reject extremism. "The popular rejection of al Qaeda and its ideology has for example, helped transform Anbar province this year from one of the most dangerous areas of Iraq to one of the safest," Petraeus said.
The rejection of extremism in Sunni areas like Anbar is being mirrored in Shiia areas, as well, he said.
While the surge is working to improve security, one reason for the commitment of five more brigades of U.S. troops was to give Iraqi leaders breathing space needed to take on tough political problems that need to be solved. "It has not worked out as we hoped," Petraeus said in his letter. "All participants, Iraqi and coalition alike, are dissatisfied by the halting progress on major legislative initiatives such as the oil framework law, revenue sharing and de-Baathification reform."
Iraqi leaders confronted these issues in a summit at the end of August that indicated they are serious about dealing with these problems, but problems persist.
Petraeus urged all members of Multinational Force Iraq to continue their work to sustain a free and stable Iraq. He said he will make his assessment public Sept. 10 and will make those recommendations "conscious of the strain on our forces, the sacrifices that you and your families are making, the gains we have made in Iraq, the challenges that remain and the importance of building on what we and our Iraqi counterparts have fought so hard to achieve," he wrote.