By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 5, 2007 - The surge of U.S. forces has contributed to a marked decrease in sectarian attacks and other violence across Iraq, while a bevy of programs is breathing life into the country's battered infrastructure and economy, U.S. officials told reporters today. "Together with our Iraqi partners, we are making progress in securing the people of Iraq," coalition spokesman Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner told reporters in Baghdad. "In the coming months, coalition and Iraqi forces will keep the pressure on the enemy, while also supporting important economic and reconstruction efforts in areas where we have already secured the population."
For example, the number of security incidents overall has declined during eight of the past 11 weeks since the surge took hold in June, Bergner pointed out.
Last week, the number of security incidents was the lowest in more than a year, the general said. Sectarian-motivated killings also have declined, Bergner continued, noting such deaths have been halved since December.
Additionally, there is growing cooperation between Iraqi and coalition security forces and the Iraqi populace, Bergner said. This is illustrated, he said, by increased citizen-provided tips that lead to the discovery of enemy weapons caches.
"The number of weapons caches found in all of 2006 was about 2,700. The number found so far through August of this year has already exceeded 4,300," Bergner said.
Citizen-supplied tips enabled U.S. and Iraqi forces to uncover a large weapons cache during a recent cordon-and-search operation in Baghdad's Mansour district, Bergner said. This cache, he said, contained large quantities of rockets, artillery and mortar rounds, as well as materials suitable for making improvised explosive devices.
Another recent citizen-provided tip resulted in the raid near a suspected al Qaeda leader's home in Baghdad that yielded a cornucopia of enemy weaponry that included machine guns, rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, Bergner said.
Acting in concert with coalition troops, Iraqi national police in Baghdad recently found three weapons caches containing rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, hand grenades, IED-making materials and more, he said.
Another recent raid north of Baghdad broke up an al Qaeda operation that preyed on local Iraqis, Bergner noted. That al Qaeda cell was "imposing vigilante law on local residents," he said.
Coalition forces also liberated nine Iraqi citizens that were being illegally held by the terrorists, he said. Five al Qaeda agents were killed during the operation.
That al Qaeda in Iraq cell also was disciplining recalcitrant members, Bergner noted, demonstrating the degree of pressure the surge is putting on al Qaeda.
However, as U.S. and Iraqi security forces continue to put the squeeze on insurgents in Iraq, there remains "an ever-increasing need" to restore essential services and economic prosperity for the country's people, Bergner said.
Reviving Iraq's economy and infrastructure is within the wheelhouse of U.S. Ambassador Charles Ries, the coordinator for economic transition and minister for economic affairs.
"The economy of Iraq is doing better than it has in the last two years," said Ries, who accompanied Bergner at the news conference. The surge is making a positive impact on the country's infrastructure and economy, he noted, as electricity-generating capacity continues to rise and new businesses sprout up across the country.
Iraq's post-Saddam Hussein economy continues to have hiccups, but it is steadily improving, Ries said, noting that Iraq's real domestic product growth will top 6 percent this year.
Ongoing infrastructure-improvement efforts are aimed at improving water, sewage and electricity services for Iraq's people, Ries said. The provincial reconstruction teams, he added, are working with their Iraqi partners in finding solutions to pressing infrastructure and economic issues.
Provincial reconstruction team leaders also "are working with their military colleagues to target U.S. resources in the areas that can make the most difference," Ries explained.
Iraqis are eager to reopen their boarded-up factories, he said. The Iraqi central government, he noted, has earmarked $10 billion in funding to meet public needs throughout the country -- the largest amount allocated for that purpose in Iraq's history. About $2 billion of that money is being directly transferred to Iraq's 18 provinces, he said.
"This is a revolution in fiscal policy and also allows the Iraqi people to see a closer connection between their needs and government expenditures," Ries said.
In addition, approval of petroleum-regulatory and revenue-sharing legislation slated to come before the Iraqi parliament this month will help to rejuvenate the country's oil and natural gas industries, Vies said. If the legislation is adopted, he said, it would enable world oil and gas companies to help Iraq develop its existing oil and gas deposits and also find new ones.
There's also a need to increase foreign investment in Iraq, Ries said, adding he's buoyed by recent competitive bidding by Jordanian firms for telecommunications services contract work in Iraq. Such activity, he noted, indicates a growing international interest in investing in Iraq's infrastructure and economy.
"There's new interest in the Iraqi economy from foreigners," Ries said.
Iraqi business leaders universally cite electricity availability as an obstacle to economic growth, Ries acknowledged. However, Iraqi and World Bank officials are now working together to plan how to increase the country's power-generating capacity.
A number of ongoing programs are designed to improve Iraq's banking system as part of stimulating the private economic sector, Ries said. Iraq's banking system, he noted, requires an influx of technology to enable it to employ wire-transfer of funds, rather than using trucks or other conveyances to ferry cash from bank to bank.
Efforts also are under way to improve Iraq's agricultural production, Ries said. Iraq's fertile region located between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers could one day become a "breadbasket" of the Middle East, he said.
Iraq's airports and water ports also require attention to bring them up to modern standards, he added.
Nonetheless, Iraq's economic future "is really quite bright," Ries said.
"As oil production increases, as the private sector responds to new opportunities, I think we will see an Iraq that is increasingly self-confident economically, and that can provide the jobs that its young and growing population need," he said.