By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 1, 2007 - One sign of the improved security environment in Iraq is the growing number of Iraqis stepping forward to take back their communities from extremists, a top coalition commander said today. Speaking to Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Baghdad, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said concerned local citizens across Iraq are providing valuable information to the coalition and Iraqi security forces.
The movement began in the Sunni Arab province of Anbar, but it is spreading to Shiite provinces and mixed areas of Baghdad, the general said. "Bound together by a desire for peace and prosperity, the Iraqi people are overcoming differences to provide a better future for their children," he said.
More than 60,000 Iraqis are volunteering to provide security in their neighborhoods. The Iraqi government's National Reconciliation Committee is serving as a bridge between the various tribes of the country and the ministries of Interior and Defense to absorb some of these volunteers into the Iraqi security forces, Odierno said.
These concerned local citizens are providing information coalition and Iraqi forces need to find extremists and weapons caches, stop financial support to terrorists and criminals, and stop sectarian violence, the general said.
"Due largely to tips from concerned local citizens, the amount of illegal arms, ammunition and explosives recovered from caches just over the past 15 days is staggering: over 37,000 pounds of explosives, a thousand gallons of nitric acid used to make homemade explosives, over 2,000 artillery rounds and over 500 rockets, 136 assembled explosively formed penetrators, along with 359 copper discs used to make more (penetrators), and hundreds of rifles, grenades, anti-tank weapons and suicide vests," Odierno said.
Explosively formed penetrators are especially deadly shaped charges designed to pierce armor.
The Iraqi government also is looking at ways to use these volunteers to work on rebuilding Iraq. The general said providing security is the first step in building irreversible momentum for peace.
"We still have much work to do is this area, but the planning has begun," he said. "This is having an effect not only on the levels of violence, but also on relations between members of different sects, between the Iraqi people as well as the government, and between Iraqis and the coalition."
Providing the basic services to the Iraqi people would make a huge difference in how people receive the government. "(Iraqi) Prime Minister (Nouri al-) Maliki has come out here and discussed how he believes that the next year will be the year of providing services to the people, so the words are right," Odierno said. "I challenge them now to really act on those words."
Local people have set the standard for cooperation in the country. "We are seeing much more capability at local leadership levels, at town levels, at community levels, at the provincial level, and their ability now to coordinate with the central government and to begin to help and provide services to the people of Iraq," Odierno said. "So that is a bit encouraging."
The general said the government is making progress in providing services. Electricity generation is up, but so is demand -- another bit of fallout from the improved security situation in the country. The nation is shipping more oil to market, water projects are coming on line, and sewage systems are being maintained. "Those are important signs," he said.
"But this infrastructure is in bad shape, and it's going to take time for it to be completely fixed, and it's going to take action by the government of Iraq as well as us," the general continued.
The government and the coalition have a long way to go to provide basic services to the war-torn land, but there are hopeful signs. "What the Iraqi people want to see are people out there trying to get it done, and they're starting to see that, and I think that's important," Odierno said.