By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 10, 2007 - Positive trends in Iraq's Anbar province are permanent, the commander of coalition forces in western Iraq said today. Iraqi security forces in the province are shouldering the security burden, and they are 19 months away from assuming full control in what was once the al Qaeda stronghold in Iraq, Marine Maj. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin, commander of Multinational Force West, told Pentagon reporters.
Violence in the Sunni-dominated province has dropped precipitously. November was the 10th month in a row of declining violence, Gaskin said during a video-teleconference from Baghdad. Put another way, this time last year, there were 460 enemy incidents each week. In the past week, there were 40, he said.
"The Anbaris ... have seen the brutal way in which al Qaeda operated," Gaskin said. "They don't want to return to that. In fact, they have what's known as 'blood feuds' with al Qaeda, meaning it takes about six generations to eliminate that type of strife. The Anbaris are tired of violence."
Gaskin said Anbaris want a normal life. "They want to have their kids go to school. They like to have employment," he said. "And so I think that part is permanent."
The security umbrella is allowing Anbaris to develop, he said. The Iraqi security forces in the province are relatively new, he said, yet they are taking on more and more of the security burden.
"What we have done is given them the opportunity to do that by training along with them, by providing an example for them: mentorship, leadership," the general said. "And I see this as we improve their capacity, and we, meaning the coalition forces, are able to withdraw back into overwatch. We can see now that these forces will be capable of doing and operating on their own. Independence, self-reliance, all is coming."
The Iraqi forces, both army and police, are evolving to be self-sufficient logistically, tactically and operationally, he said.
Key to success in Anbar has been the development of Iraqi security forces. Overall, 40,000 Iraqis serve in the army or police in the province. "The Iraqi security forces are acquitting themselves magnificently," Gaskin said. "They just need time to gain the experience required. You cannot buy experience; it has to be earned, and it takes time to do that."
He said embedded transition teams, consisting of about 1,700 U.S. soldiers, Marines and sailors, have been crucial to the Iraqi progress. Servicemembers partner with Iraqi units, and live and work side by side with their Iraqi counterparts. "They share the same trials and hardships, and the satisfaction of being there when the units perform in the field," Gaskin said. "They are trainers, mentors and facilitators. I believe in the importance of their mission, so much so that we have increased the number of personnel that we assign to these transition teams by 40 percent."
Anbaris are making progress from the governance and economic standpoints, as well, the general said. The security situation has improved to the extent that Anbar's provincial council finally is able to meet and operate in the province. "They were basically in exile because of murder and intimidation," Gaskin said.
Provincial leaders are dealing with town and city councils and with federal-level officials. They have learned about budgets and are requesting funds from the central government. "This is new," Gaskin said. Under Saddam Hussein, "the money was force-fed. Now it's requested through budgetary requirements."
The province received $170 million in 2007. "From the grassroots level, they've been able to build a budget and do governance and connect that to their federal government, based on the requirements within the province," Gaskin said.
The province also is petitioning the federal government for other aid, which also shows the growth of democracy in the region. The province has asked for help in dealing with state-owned enterprises, infrastructure projects, agriculture and micro-finance loans as just a few examples, Gaskin said. "Are they receiving all that they should? No," he said. "Have they got procedures in place to request? Yes. And it's growing, and I anticipate the 2008 budget will bear witness to that."
Al Qaeda in Iraq is still a danger and can still launch isolated attacks in western Iraq, Gaskin said. A November attack in Ramadi killed two Iraqi police and a civilian.
"Far from striking fear into the population, this attack was met by outrage and disgust by the citizens of Ramadi, who want nothing more than just the return to a sense of normalcy," Gaskin said.