By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
March 12, 2008 - Police in Iraq's Wasit province are gaining the trust of the local populace while assuming more responsibility for security, a senior U.S. military officer in Iraq said today. "As far as security, I'm very, very encouraged," Army Col. Peter Baker said during a conference call with civilian military analysts.
Baker, an artilleryman who commands 214th Fire Brigade, has worked security and economic issues across Wasit province since June. The province includes the city of Kut, which is located along the Tigris River about 103 miles southeast of Baghdad.
"The security situation has not always been this stable" in the province, Baker said. Today, however, Wasit province's new police chief is providing both a positive influence and results.
The Iraqi law enforcement official is "well-respected throughout Wasit province, both from a tribal perspective and tribal officials," Baker said.
Wasit province residents now "welcome the Iraqi police into their neighborhoods," Baker said. At one time, he noted, local Iraqis believed that their police were being intimidated by the insurgents.
"But now, the police are coming to arrest the (insurgent) militia," Baker pointed out.
The province's police force has led several recent anti-insurgent operations, Baker noted, as they team with coalition and Iraqi military forces.
Wasit province residents now realize "if you have security, you can go about doing reconstruction," the colonel explained.
Baker and his troops also work with Iraqi officials and provincial reconstruction teams in developing new businesses and in building roads, bridges, schools and other needed infrastructure.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also is active within his area of operations, Baker said, noting the engineers have built a vocational school offering courses in automotive mechanics and sewing, a water-pumping station, and other facilities.
Baker cited employment as the top economic issue within his area of operations. "The most pressing need, without a doubt, is employment," he said. "Every little thing that we're doing will add to that, but it's going to be a matter of time."