By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 29, 2008 - Improvements in the security situation south of Baghdad have enabled economic and political progress, and the continued development of the Iraqi security forces will advance those gains, a U.S. commander said yesterday. Progress across those multiple fronts is interconnected, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, deputy commanding general for operations for Multinational Division Center, explained during a call with military bloggers.
"If this were an organism, it would be a symbiotic effect that we have through these different factors operating in concert with each other to achieve an overall more positive effect," Buchanan said.
The general said that in his area of operations, south of Baghdad, his troops are charged with six primary objectives: securing the Iraqi population, defeating violent extremist networks, disrupting lethal aid from Iran, professionalizing the Iraqi security forces, transferring security responsibilities to the Iraqis, and enabling governance and economic development.
Of those missions, Buchanan pointed to the "professionalization and development of the various Iraqi security forces" as the decisive effort in turning the conflict in Iraq's favor. Those forces include the Army, the National Police, the Department of Border Enforcement and the Iraqi Police Service.
"We operate by, with and through the Iraqi forces throughout our [operating environment]," Buchanan said. "And so it is not us -- the coalition forces -- securing the Iraqi population; it's the coalition forces, in partnership with the Iraqis, securing the Iraqi population."
A dramatic improvement in leadership and willingness to serve throughout the Iraqi security forces, owing in part to the success of the U.S. troop surge, has given the Iraqis the opportunity to make substantial gains in providing for their own security, Buchanan said.
"In the last year, we've had more than 130,000 Iraqis join the various forms of security forces," he said. "At the individual level, the individual soldier or policeman understands what risks he's facing. And he continues to serve, and despite the risk continues to serve, in support of his country, and really in support and in defense of his family."
That determination extends to Iraq's leadership, the general explained.
"At the national level, ... there has been a significant demonstration of courage by the government of Iraq -- willing to take on all of its enemies, regardless of ethnicity or religious sect. And that, in itself, has generated more confidence in the security forces and the government," Buchanan said.
Crucial support also has come from paid security volunteers organized into what's known as the "Sons of Iraq" program, Buchanan said. The program consists of local Iraqis being paid to man checkpoints in their towns and villages, with their knowledge of the local area and populace sufficient to let them identify outsiders or illicit activity.
While thousands of Sons of Iraq volunteers have been transitioned into the official Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi government is debating the future of the substantial number of remaining volunteers.
"It's really a movement that does not have a national-level consensus, but it's a local movement to provide local security for these communities," Buchanan said. "In doing so, they took control of their communities back. And of course, they've done so in partnership with us, and more importantly, within the past six months, increasingly in a partnership with the [Iraqi security forces]."
Transitioning oversight of the Sons of Iraq to the Iraqi security forces is advancing the cause of Iraqi self-security, Buchanan said. "In this society, being able to defend your village and your home is a point of pride," he said.
An often-overlooked benefit of the Sons of Iraq program is the economic impact it has had on communities, Buchanan said. "Because all of these [previously] unemployed military-aged males are out there throughout the community earning a pretty good salary, ... they now have disposable income," he explained.
"Because they have disposable income, everywhere you go throughout our [operating environment] you'll see little businesses springing up," Buchanan said. "The security situation has enabled economic development where it could never take hold before. And the same thing goes for development of governance from the local to the national level.
"We and our Iraqi partners want to take full advantage of it, and we are," the general said.
(Tim Kilbride works for the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)