By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 13, 2007 - The transformation of the northern and western outskirts of Baghdad "has been nothing short of remarkable," the commander of 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team operating there said today. Army Col. Paul E. Funk II cited significant progress in the security environment since his "Iron Horse Brigade" arrived in Baghdad in December. He pointed to close cooperation between the Iraqi army, Iraqi police from the local Sunni and Shiite tribes. They've "grown weary of the intimidation tactics of extremist elements (and are) working together to secure their homes, their children and their future through coordination amongst themselves, the tribes and the local governments," he said.
As a result, violence is down sharply -- from an average of 150 attacks a week in late January and February, to just seven last week, he said. That's had a ripple effect in the community at large.
"The result has been nothing short of phenomenal," Funk said. "When I walk through the local markets, they're full. Small businesses are erupting everywhere, and we use micro-grants in kind to help fuel the small business momentum. A sense of a return to normalcy has caught on."
Despite this "remarkable progress," Funk acknowledged, "We still have a long way to go. The extremist threat still remains. We will continue to see these attacks, but they are beginning to be the exception, not the rule."
Funk said the improved security environment is giving people the opportunity to turn their attention to other issues. "The people no longer talk about security as the prime concern," he said. "Now, it's services, government, academics for their children, and the future."
He pointed to the work of Provincial Reconstruction Team Baghdad 5 as a major factor in bringing about this change. The team, led by Thomas Burke Jr., a foreign service officer with the State Department, works hand in hand with Funk's troops. "We are embedded directly with the 1st Brigade Combat Team," Burke said. "In fact, we're so far embedded that some folks think I'm Paul Funk's shadow as we travel together through the countryside."
Burke shared Funk's optimism that reconciliation "has gathered momentum" in recent months and cited "dynamic efforts" by Funk's soldiers in engaging Sunni and Shiite sheiks and generating constructive dialog.
Funk said cooperation being exhibited among troops on the ground, the PRTs and Iraqi leaders is helping local and provincial government leaders build capacity to manage their own initiatives. "This is the follow-through needed to cement the gains of the surge and to allow Iraq to step forward," he said.