By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
June 12, 2008 - Improvements in overall security incidents and Iraqi forces continued to rise during the past week, enabling the central government and coalition forces to begin progress in other areas vital to Iraq's growth and sovereignty, a senior U.S. military official in Iraq said yesterday. The country began to see a reduction in security incidents four weeks ago, marking the lowest levels since March 2004, Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference. The Iraqi government is undertaking broader efforts to provide services that were not possible a year ago, such as reconstruction in Sadr City and the Shola neighborhoods as well as agricultural initiatives across the country, he said.
Electricity, water, cleaning, infrastructure restoration, and humanitarian aid projects are under way in Sadr City, said Tahseen al-Sheikhly, a civilian spokesman for Operation Fardh al-Qanoon, also known as the Baghdad Security Plan. These projects will help eliminate unemployment for Baghdad citizens, which is the cause of much of the violence in the city, Sheikhly said.
Now that security has been achieved, he added, the challenge is to provide the best services to the citizens, thereby raising the living and economic standards and infrastructure.
The Ministry of Electricity already has replaced light poles and restored power to the Sadr City hospital, he said. Officials also are establishing a solar power system in an effort to minimize future outages and continue growing employment opportunities.
Agriculture also is benefiting from the low security-incident levels, Bergner said. The government's date palm spraying campaign raised more than 33 percent from the previous year, covering more than 170,000 acres in Babil, Baghdad, Diyala, Karbala, Wasit provinces.
Iraqi pilots flew 336 spraying sorties under difficult time constraints and challenging weather conditions using two government Mi-2 helicopters, Bergner continued. Baghdad and Diyala provinces were sprayed for the first time in six years, as security conditions since the war began hadn't permitted spraying until now.
"Iraqi planning for the 2009 spraying campaign is already under way," he added, noting he Ministry of Agriculture has appropriated some $20 million for helicopters and spare parts.
"Progress in the agriculture sector and other improvements are a direct result of the security gains around Iraq and the growing capacity of Iraqi forces," Bergner said. "The increasing support of Iraq's citizens for the rule of law has been a key factor in reducing the levels of violence."
Since the beginning of Operation Sawlat al-Fursan on March 25 in Basra and Operation A'Salaam on May 20 in Sadr City, Iraqi security forces have uncovered more than 500 weapons caches and stockpiles -- 378 in Basra and 124 in Sadr City, Bergner said. More than 3,500 mortars, 1,600 rocket-propelled grenades, 600 improvised explosive devices, and 75 armor-piercing explosively formed projectiles were confiscated.
"As Iraqi forces and Iraqi citizens cooperate to remove weapons from the hands of extremists before they can be used, their government is increasingly capable of being able to provide the services that Dr. Sheikhly talked about to the Iraqi people," he said.
The increased security will "allow businesses to reopen, allow children to go back to school, revitalize the agriculture sector as they are in the process of doing, and allow Iraqis to rebuild their lives," he said.
"There is still much tough work ahead, but the steady progress in Basra, in Baghdad, and in Mosul is now providing better opportunities for the citizens of Iraq," the general said.