By By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 14, 2007 - Quality of life in Iraq is getting better thanks to increased security, a chief Iraqi government spokesman said yesterday from Baghdad. Ali Aldabbagh spoke with online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call two days after Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker testified before Congress about the future of a U.S. military presence in Iraq.
"It is a positive report," Aldabbagh said of Petraeus' and Crocker's assessments. "The security situation has been improved" but there are still "hot areas" that the government of Iraq must fix by itself, he said.
Aldabbagh cited continuing "deficiencies" in the government, but noted Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki has ordered a "full reshuffling" of the cabinet.
More than 14,000 members of the Interior Ministry have been fired for human rights violations such as gang membership and involvement in organized crime, he said.
"We understand there are bad people," Aldabbagh acknowledged. "We need to improve."
Making improvements will require the continued presence of coalition forces in his country, Aldabbagh said. He said Iraqis "appreciate the sacrifices of families" of U.S. servicemembers who helped his country defeat tyranny and dictatorship.
Aldabbagh said he "couldn't fix a time" when troops should leave Iraq, but that he believes "we could see a good number withdrawn next year."
"We do need more time to build forces," he said.
Aldabbagh noted tangible signs of progress, including longer hours of electrical service being more widely available across the country, markets open longer into the evening, higher salaries for Iraqi workers and higher value of the country's currency.
Iraqi citizens are cooperating more and more with coalition forces, Aldabbagh said. In the past months, he said, government phone lines were "overwhelmed" with calls from Iraqis reporting suspicious or criminal activity.
Aldabbagh noted vastly improved security in Anbar province, where Sunnis have joined with coalition forces to fight al Qaeda insurgents.
But just a few hours before the conference call, a prominent sheik who spearheaded much of the Sunni resistance to al Qaeda was assassinated. Abdul Sattar Bezia al-Rishawi and two of his aides were killed when a roadside bomb exploded outside the sheik's farm near Ramadi.
Aldabbagh expressed Iraq's condolences to the slain sheik's family, calling him "such a brave man" who took the lead to defeat al Qaeda terrorists.
(David Mays works in New Media at American Forces Information Service.)