By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
July 31, 2008 - Citing improved conditions in Iraq, President Bush announced today that soldiers deploying there from tomorrow on will serve 12-month tours of duty. Army tours in Iraq were extended from 12 to 15 months in April 2007. Pentagon civilian and military officials have expressed the intent to cut Iraq tour lengths from 15 to 12 months for some time.
Violence in Iraq has decreased to its lowest levels in four years, which indicates that the security gains achieved there in recent months may be lasting, Bush said today at the White House.
"Violence is down to its lowest level since the spring of 2004," Bush said. Reduced strife in Iraq, he said, has continued for three consecutive months and is holding steady.
Bush said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of Multinational Force Iraq, have cautioned him that the improved security environment in Iraq still is reversible. However, Crocker and Petraeus also believe "there now appears to be a degree of durability to the gains we have made," Bush said.
The success of the surge, Bush said, is "a significant reason for this sustained progress" in Iraq. Iraqi security forces are increasing in capability, he said, noting that 192 Iraqi combat battalions are now in the fight. More than 110 of these units, he said, are taking the lead in combat operations against terrorists and extremists.
Iraqi forces proved their mettle earlier this year, Bush said, during the successful Iraqi government-led military operations launched against Shiite extremists in Basra, Amarah and the Sadr City section of Baghdad.
"Because of these operations, extremists who once terrorized the citizens of these communities have been driven from their strongholds," Bush said. As a result, he said, Crocker "was able to walk the streets of Sadr City last Wednesday."
That act, Bush noted, was something that would not have been possible just a few months ago.
This week, the Iraqi government is launching a new military offensive against al-Qaida terrorists believed to be operating in parts of Diyala province, Bush said.
"This operation is Iraqi-led; our forces are playing a supporting role," Bush said. And during the coming months, he said, "the Iraqis will continue taking the lead in more military operations across the country."
The improved security environment has enabled the Iraqis to achieve political progress as well, the president said, noting that Iraqi lawmakers have passed several major pieces of legislation this year. Iraqi leaders also are preparing for provincial elections slated for later this year, he noted.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently returned from a European trip, Bush said, where the Iraqi leader held important diplomatic discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Pope Benedict XVI.
The progress in Iraq, Bush said, has enabled the redeployment of the five Army surge brigades and three Marine elements as well as the reduction of the length of U.S. Army combat tours there.
"Beginning tomorrow, troops deploying to Iraq will serve 12-month tours instead of 15-month tours," Bush said. "This will ease the burden on our forces; it will make life easier for our wonderful military families."
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Iraqi governments are making progress developing a strategic framework agreement covering military-to-military and diplomatic relations between the two countries, Bush said. The agreement, he said, will serve as the foundation for America's presence in Iraq after the United Nations resolution authorizing multinational forces in Iraq expires on Dec. 31.
Yet, despite all the recent achievements made in Iraq, America remains at war with global terrorists, the president said.
"Al-Qaida is on the run in Iraq, but the terrorists remain dangerous, and they are determined to strike our country and our allies again," Bush said. "In this time of war, America is grateful to all the men and women who have stepped up forward to defend us."
U.S. servicemembers "understand that we have no greater responsibility than to stop the terrorists before they launch another attack on our homeland," the president said. "And every day, they make great sacrifices to keep the American people safe here at home. We owe our thanks to all those who wear the uniform and their families who support them in their vital work. And the best way to honor them is to support their mission and to bring them home with victory."