By Kristen Noel
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 10, 2007 - Violence in Iraq has been stabilized enough to allow governmental, economic and social advances to move forward, a Multinational Corps Iraq official said. Violence levels are at their lowest since January 2006, Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the command's chief of staff, reported during a conference call with online journalists and "bloggers" Dec. 7.
Anderson attributed the downward trend in violence partly to the Iraqi people's resolve against extremists. "The signs are clear that the people at the grassroots level don't agree with the extremist views held by these fringe radical elements and the various sectarian groups," he said.
"As further evidence of the Iraqi citizens' resolve, the 'concerned local citizens' program continues to improve the security and stability of neighborhoods throughout the country," Anderson said. "More than 70,000 volunteers nationwide have stepped forward to reinforce the work of the Iraqi army and Iraqi police in securing the population."
Civilian volunteers known as concerned local citizens are localized and controlled by Iraqi security forces. Concerned local citizens provide security "where security doesn't exist because the (Iraqi forces) aren't there," Anderson said.
The concerned citizens groups, similar to Neighborhood Watch programs in the United States, also are valuable information sources. "They are providing valuable knowledge on the neighborhoods to coalition forces, which degrades the capacity of the extremists to establish footholds from which they can conduct their attacks," he explained.
Potentially 20 to 25 percent of the roughly 72,000 concerned local citizen volunteers currently operating will be assimilated into the Iraqi security forces, primarily the police, because "they demonstrate loyalty to the government of Iraq," Anderson said.
He also said the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq played a major role in diminishing the violence. "We all commonly agree, without the extra boots on the ground, this all wouldn't have turned," he said.
Major offensive operations during the surge of additional troops into Baghdad and areas of western Iraq targeted enemy safe havens and sanctuaries. "We aimed at eliminating places where al Qaeda and Shiia extremists operated. The trends to date suggest that we've been pretty successful in doing that," he explained.
Enhanced security allows for other efforts toward long-term stability -- such as creating jobs, delivering micro-grants for small business, and fostering the growth of major industry -- to take root, Anderson said.
Displaced citizens who fled to neighboring countries are hearing of the improvements and are beginning to return, with an initial group of about 300 refugees returning to Baghdad last week, he said.
"These returns will continue making economic improvements all that much more important," Anderson said. "Now is the time for addressing the other elements of life in a large, diverse country."
He also said nothing will come easily, and tough days remain. "The Iraqi people are dedicated to a better life, as are we. And, hopefully, together we can move forward."
(Kristen Noel works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)