By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
March 11, 2008 - The latest quarterly report on the situation in Iraq notes continued security improvements and limited but important political, economic and diplomatic progress that must expand to preserve fragile security gains. The Defense Department released its "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" report today, the latest in quarterly reports to Congress, covering the period from December to February.
The report notes that violence is down throughout much of Iraq. Deaths from ethno-sectarian violence are down 90 percent, and civilian and coalition deaths by more than 70 percent since the June report.
The bulls-eye for attacks has shifted from Anbar province, which has seen a dramatic 90 percent drop in violence since January, to Ninewa and Diyala provinces, the report notes.
It cites a variety of factors contributing to the drop in violence: the coalition's focus on securing the population; progress against al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremists and criminal groups; and growing rejection of these groups by the Iraqi people, among them.
The report also points to the strength of the tribal "awakening" and "Sons of Iraq" movements working to stop violence, limitations on counter-Iraqi meddling by Iran, a crackdown on foreign-fighter networks, and Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr's ceasefire order to his followers as helping reduce violence.
Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces continue making gains, gradually assuming more responsibility for maintaining law and order and promoting stability, the report says. It credits coalition assistance with enabling the Iraqi Defense Ministry to generate 135 army battalions that are conducting operations at varying capability levels. Another 37 combat battalions and two special operations battalions are planned or have started to form.
The Iraqi police are making headway, too, with Iraq's Interior Ministry expanding its training facilities from four to 17 over the past year and in the midst of implementing its first annual strategic plan.
As a side benefit of their improved capabilities, both the Defense and Interior ministries are beginning to coordinate better, creating a synergy that's enabling the Iraqi government its first opportunity to conduct long-term planning for developing its security forces, the report notes.
The report also identifies progress on the political, economic and diplomatic fronts. New strides have been taken in reconciliation at every level, and the Iraqi economy is growing. Long-time, sustained progress, it said, will depend on Iraq's ability to address the complex issues associated with key political and economic objectives.
"Iraq has seen important security gains in recent months. However, these security gains cannot be taken for granted, and there is tough, challenging work ahead," the report concludes. "Further progress will depend on the continued ability of Iraqi leaders to capitalize on the hard-fought gains achieved by the coalition and Iraqi forces and other courageous members of Iraqi society who are dedicated to peace."