By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
April 9, 2008 - The efforts of U.S. and Iraqi surge forces have boosted security in Iraq, but those gains are uneven and subject to reversal, the top U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Iraq testified before the House Armed Services Committee here today. "There has been significant, but uneven, security progress in Iraq," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, told panel members.
"Levels of violence and civilian deaths have been reduced substantially," Petraeus pointed out, noting that al-Qaida in Iraq and other extremists "have been dealt serious blows" by surge-fortified U.S. and Iraqi security forces.
Iraqi security forces capabilities and numbers have grown over the past seven months, Petraeus said, noting there are now nearly 550,000 Iraqi soldiers and police. Membership in concerned Iraqi citizens groups that aid in local security efforts also has increased to more than 91,000 participants, he added.
However, the security situation in some areas of Iraq remains uneven and unsatisfactory, Petraeus said, citing recent flare-ups of violence in parts of Baghdad and in Basra. Those incidents, he said, indicate security challenges that remain to be resolved.
The recent violence in Baghdad and Basra has demonstrated that "the progress made since last spring is still fragile and reversible," Petraeus said.
"Nonetheless, security in Iraq is better than it was when we reported to you last September," Petraeus told the panel members. "And, it is significantly better than it was 15 months ago when Iraq was on the brink of civil war and the decision was made to deploy additional U.S. forces to Iraq."
Petraeus attributed recent security gains in Iraq to three factors:
-- The engagement of some 30,000 U.S. and more than 100,000 Iraqi surge forces;
-- Employment of U.S. and Iraqi security forces in joint counterinsurgency operations to safeguard the Iraqi people and battle extremists and criminals; and
The Iraqi people's adoption of anti-insurgent attitudes, as Sunni tribes in Anbar province have united to fight al-Qaida extremists and Shiia-based anti-insurgent groups also have emerged.
However, a multitude of forces -- not only al-Qaida and Iranian-allied terrorists, but also garden-variety criminals -- are competing to sow destruction and discord in efforts to topple Iraq's government for their own purposes, Petraeus said.
"This competition continues, influenced heavily by outside actors, and its resolution remains the key to producing long-term stability in Iraq," the four-star general said.
Ethno-centric disagreements continue to occur among Iraq's population, but there are signs of improvement and growing accord, Petraeus said.
"Iraq's ethno-centric competition in many areas is now taking place more through debate and less through violence," he told the panel. "In fact, the recent escalation of violence in Baghdad and southern Iraq was dealt with, temporarily at least, by most parties acknowledging that the rational way ahead is political dialogue, rather than street fighting."
Five years ago today, U.S. troops pulled down Saddam Hussein's statue in a Baghdad square, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker, who accompanied Petraeus at the hearing, told panel members.
Crocker concurred with Petraeus that things are looking up in Iraq. Enhanced security and other positive developments achieved in Iraq over the past several months "have strengthened my sense of a positive trend," the diplomat said.
Yet, immense challenges remain in Iraq, Crocker said, describing the progress achieved there as "uneven and often frustratingly slow."
However, the Iraqi government recently passed some key legislation dealing with the vital issues of reconciliation and nation building, Crocker pointed out. Newly passed laws that reform the de-Baathification process, establish pensions, and define the relationship between the central and provincial governments help to solidify Iraq's political landscape, he said.
Sustaining the gains made in Iraq "will require continuing U.S. resolve and commitment," the ambassador said.
"What has been achieved is substantial, but it is also reversible," he added.