By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
March 27, 2008 - The surge of forces has enabled the Iraqi government to realize security, political and economic gains, President Bush said today during a visit to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton, Ohio. "The surge is doing what it was designed to do," Bush said. Last year's deployment of about 30,000 extra U.S. troops to Iraq has provided security and breathing space so the Iraqi government can establish itself against its enemies, Bush said at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
Bush saluted Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's "bold decision" to send Iraqi security forces into Basra to tamp down recent insurgent violence there. Maliki's action "demonstrates to Iraqis that their government is committed to protecting them," Bush said.
The Iraqi-planned operation in Basra also shows progress Iraqi security forces have made during the surge, Bush said.
Iraqis "are leading this operation," he said, noting that Maliki has traveled to Basra to personally oversee the effort.
Bush acknowledged it will take some time to restore order in Basra and that it's likely "the enemy will try to fill the TV screens with violence" to further their cause. Yet, the president predicted the ultimate defeat of terrorists and criminal in Iraq.
"Terrorists and extremists in Iraq will know that they have no place in a free and democratic society," he said.
The surge also has produced many positive changes in Iraqi political life, the president pointed out.
"Before the surge (Iraqi) politics at every level was shutting down," Bush recalled, noting that security concerns at that time prevented the routine conduct of government. Pre-surge levels of violence had alarmed all Iraqis and hardened sectarian differences that made difficult political compromise in the legislature impossible, Bush said.
One year later, "the situation has changed markedly" after additional U.S. troops deployed into Iraq, Bush said. For example, Anbar province was considered lost to al Qaeda only 18 months ago, he pointed out. Today, the efforts of concerned local citizens groups have largely removed al Qaeda's influence in that province. Insurgent-conducted attacks have plummeted in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, the president said.
"Al Qaeda has lost Anbar," Bush said, noting the terrorist group had counted on using that province to launch operations to secure all of Iraq for its own ends.
Today, tribal leaders who united to eject al Qaeda from Anbar province are leading a revival of political discourse in the region, Bush said. Neighborhood councils are being set up, he said, while accredited judges are dispensing justice in Iraqi courts.
"As the news of the success in Anbar has spread, similar grassroots movements have sprung up all around the country," Bush said. Today, some 90,000 Iraqis from different ethnic backgrounds belong to concerned local citizens groups known collectively as "the Sons of Iraq," the president said.
These groups of citizens, Bush said, "are determined to protect their communities; they are determined to fight extremism; and they increasingly participate in civic life."
Indicators of renewed civic life are abundant, Bush said, citing the springing up of community soccer tournaments and races all over Iraq. Such events demonstrate that "the surge is working and civil society is beginning to grow," Bush said. "It is a sign normalcy is returning back to Iraq."
In addition, recent political developments in Iraq "have been remarkable," Bush said, citing a number of legislative achievements, including a de-Baathification law that enables mid-level Baath Party members to reenter political and civic life. Saddam Hussein controlled the Baath Party in Iraq, and party members were given choice jobs in the military, government and state-controlled industries. The passage of de-Baathification legislation, Bush said, represents "makes it easier for civil society to grow and helps reconcile the past" in Iraq.
Also, a newly passed pension law will allow tens of thousands of Sunnis to collect retirement benefits they'd been promised, Bush said.
In February, Iraq's central government enacted a budget "that increases spending on security capital, reconstruction projects and provincial governments," Bush noted. Another new law better defines the relationship between Iraq's provincial governments and the central government and sets the stage for provincial elections slated for later this year, Bush said.
"And, that's an important piece of legislation, because it will give Iraqis who boycotted the last provincial election -- such as Sunnis in Anbar or Nineva provinces -- a chance to go to the polls and have a voice in their future," Bush said.
Today, Iraqis "are striving to build a modern democracy on the rubble of three decades of tyranny in a region of the world that has been hostile to freedom," Bush said. "And they're doing it while under assault from one of history's most brutal terrorist networks."
Improvements in security also are enabling Iraqis to make progress on the economic front, Bush said. Iraq "has great economic potential," he said, and it possesses abundant natural resources.
"Every economic indicator has turned around" in Iraq, Bush said, noting business registrations have increased by more than 9 percent since the surge began. The rate of total inflation in Iraq has fallen by more than 60 percentage points, he said, and investment in the country's energy and telecom industries has increased.
Oil production is up, particularly from the fields north of Baghdad, Bush pointed out. "The oil fields there have more than doubled production, and exports through Turkey have expanded significantly," the president said.
The Iraqi central government also is working a plan to reform the country's food-rationing system, Bush reported, adding that overall economic growth rate in Iraq is projected to hit 7 percent this year.
The good economic news is buoying Iraqis' hopes for the future, Bush said. More than 75 percent of Iraqi businesses, according to a recent survey, expect continued economic growth over the next two years, he added.
In addition, the Iraqis are increasingly paying the bulk of the cost for their security, Bush said. The Iraqi government now is providing 75 percent of the cost of maintaining its security forces, worth $9 billion this year, he noted.
"And soon, Iraq should -- and we expect them to -- shoulder the full burden of their security forces," the president said.
Iraqi government officials also are working diligently to entice foreign investment while laboring to reconstitute the country's battered infrastructure, Bush said.
Electric power is being generated in Iraq as never before, but citizen and business demand for electricity is rising as the economy improves, Bush observed. Oil pipelines and storage facilities need to be upgraded, he said, noting that corruption within Iraq's government and oil industry needs to be curtailed.
"But the good news is the Iraqis recognize these shortcomings. They understand what they have to do," Bush said. "And we're going to help them succeed. We're sending experts to help them succeed in their goals."