By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 30, 2008 - Trends across the security, political and economic landscape of Iraq continue to improve, but the fundamental character of the conflict remains unchanged, according to a Defense Department report submitted to Congress yesterday. The improved security in Iraq has opened the doors for dialogue between the leading parties in the country's government and communities and has made room for other institutional developments. But results are still tenuous and long-term stability will only be realized if the Iraqi government continues to build its legitimacy and take on existing challenges, the report says.
The quarterly report is required by the 2008 DoD Appropriations Act and measures the stability and security in Iraq.
The report states that security in the country has continued to improve, even as coalition forces have drawn down, with security incidents at levels last seen in 2004. Civilian deaths across Iraq have declined by 77 percent compared to the same reporting period last year. Major contributions include the surge of coalition forces, the growth of the Iraqi security forces and the efforts of the "Sons of Iraq" citizen security groups, according to the report.
High-profile suicide attacks have taken fewer lives, and they have not been as successful at inciting subsequent violent acts, the report says.
At the same time, coalition forces have drawn down significantly. All five U.S. surge brigade combat teams, two Marine battalions and other coalition forces have left Iraq. The transfers to provincial Iraqi control of Qadisiyah province in July and of Anbar province this month highlight the report's assessment of security achievements during the drawdown of coalition forces.
The Iraqi security forces also are making progress and earning the respect of the Iraqi people, and with coalition forces, they have had many successes in the past several months against local and Iranian-supported militias, the report says. This has led to a shift in the people's attitude toward the militias, and has led to more Iraqis choosing to address their differences politically rather than through violence, according to the report.
The security successes have also led to the degradation of al-Qaida in Iraq's capabilities, the report says, and have led to broader political support for the Iraqi government.
But the report also states that while trends continue to remain positive, "they remain fragile, reversible, and uneven."
"While security has improved dramatically, the fundamental character of the conflict in Iraq remains unchanged—a communal struggle for power and resources," the report reads.
The report calls on the Iraqi government to continue building legitimacy by serving its people while taking on challenges that remain.
Some of those challenges facing the government include expanding its ministries of Defense and Interior to properly man, train and sustain their field forces. It needs to improve its defense budget and distribution of resources, the report says, and it calls on the defense ministry to successfully integrate former militia members into the Iraqi security forces.
Iranian influence in illegal militias known as "special groups" continues to plague Iraqi security efforts, the report says.
"Malign Iranian influence continues to pose the most significant threat to long-term stability in Iraq," the report reads. "Despite continued Iranian promises to the contrary, it appears clear that Iran continues to fund, train, arm, and direct [special groups] intent on destabilizing the situation in Iraq."
The nearly 100,000 Sons of Iraq helping with local security are slowly transitioning into the traditional Iraqi security forces, but the process needs to be faster and more efficient, according to the report.
Iraqi leaders continue to make incremental but steady political progress, the report says, thanks largely to the security gains.
"The current security environment is more hospitable to compromise across sectarian and ethnic divides, while expanding oil revenues have generated the funds needed to support development and reconciliation programs," the report reads.