By Navy Seaman William Selby
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 15, 2008 - Citizens of Iraq's Babil province feel secure, and overall quality of life in the area is improving due to the efforts of Iraqi and coalition forces, a U.S. commander said yesterday. Army Col. Tom James, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, detailed for bloggers and online journalists the ongoing effort to secure his region of Iraq and stimulate its economy.
James has oversight of Babil province, part of the military's Multinational Division Center area of responsibility south of Baghdad.
"Our mission is to secure the population, defeat extremists and neutralize resistance groups, increase the professionalism of the Iraqi security forces, build the capacity of government institutions and economic programs, and transition security and local development tasks to the Iraqi security forces and local governments over time," James said.
Significant improvements in quality of life and the overall security situation are the result of progress within the Iraqi security forces and a working partnership between the Iraqi forces and coalition troops, James said. Those improvements are causing a positive chain reaction and becoming partially self-reinforcing, he noted.
"The improved security has enabled positive growth in governance and economic systems, creating tangible improvements in the daily lives of Babil citizens," he said.
In July 2007, Babil averaged eight attacks per day. Now, James said, fewer than two attacks take place per week in the province.
Improvements in the Iraqi security forces have occurred across multiple fronts, the colonel explained. Their level of professionalism has increased, the "Sons of Iraq" citizen security program has provided force multipliers, and the collocation of coalition and Iraqi forces among the Iraqi population all have contributed to security gains, James said.
Improved intelligence capabilities within the Iraqi Army also have aided the situation, James said. He singled out Brig. Gen. Abdul Amir and the 31st Iraqi Army Brigade's intelligence operations as being particularly effective against several al-Qaida and Iranian-backed "special groups" that have been defeated throughout Babil.
"As a result, the people of Babil trust the 31st Brigade to provide security," he said.
The Sons of Iraq continue to provide a stabilizing force in northern Babil, James said, referring to the program of paid security volunteers.
"We employ just over 9,500 SOIs who man static checkpoints to thicken security lines between the Iraqi Army and the police positions in the cities," James said.
The third contributing factor to improved security, James said, was the fact that coalition and Iraqi forces are forward deployed at all times in patrol bases and joint security stations.
"The persistent presence of these security forces highlights to the [Iraqi] people that the ISF is committed to their security, and it stimulates human intelligence [gathering] and productive economic growth," James explained.
As a result, there has been an increase in economic productivity and gains in local government efficiency. The improved security has empowered government officials to reconnect with their populations, he said.
"Within the last three months, the governor, the provincial council leaders and directors general have traveled to north Babil, a feat that was inconceivable a year ago," James said.
Additionally, James said, northern Babil has seen a sizeable increase in government-sponsored projects, which were virtually nonexistent this time last year.
James said coalition and Iraqi forces now are focused on numerous future tasks, including successful execution of free, fair and safe elections; an Iraqi government-driven transition of the Sons of Iraq into other forms of productive employment; and assistance with local economic development to create further employment opportunity.
"We still have work to do in the areas of security, water flow, clean water and agricultural initiatives," James said. "But with a newly formed connection between local and provincial government, such improvements are achievable."
(Navy Seaman William Selby works in the New Media branch of the Defense Media Activity.)