By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 9, 2008 - Security and stabilization efforts in three southern Iraqi provinces are going well, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said today. The 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team is responsible for an area that includes Muthanna, Maysan and Dhi Qar provinces in southern Iraq, Army Col. Philip Battaglia, 4th brigade commander, said during a satellite-carried news conference with Pentagon reporters.
"We've seen the security in this area improve significantly since our arrival in July," Battaglia said. "The provinces are overall very stable, with occasional attacks by special groups and other criminal elements."
"Special groups" is the term military officials use for illegal militias believed to be trained, equipped and financed by Iran. Maysan province, the colonel noted, shares a border with Iran.
All three provinces under his purview are under Iraqi government control, Battaglia said. His unit's main mission, he explained, is to work as partners with local Iraqi security forces to increase security and stability and assist regional reconstruction efforts.
Battaglia said his soldiers live among the Iraqi population and work very closely with the 10th Iraqi Army Division, Iraqi border enforcement units and Iraqi police on a wide variety of security tasks.
"We're having tremendous success, because we've combined our technological advantages with the Iraqi firsthand knowledge of the terrain, the culture and those intangibles that only come from being an Iraqi," Battaglia said.
Battaglia's soldiers also work in tandem with the provincial reconstruction team in Maysan province, led by U.S. State Department employee Dan Foote, who accompanied Battaglia at the news conference.
"We're very focused on improving the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces and enabling Dan and his PRT to conduct their reconstruction efforts," Battaglia said.
Foote assumed charge of the PRT in mid-June. He praised Battaglia and his soldiers for providing "a tremendous level of support to the PRT mission thus far."
The main role of his PRT "is to teach, mentor and partner with provincial and local governments, civil society organizations and other provincial actors to increase their abilities, efficiency, technical expertise and transparency," Foote said. Chief focus areas, he said, include economic development, political development and reconciliation, the rule of law and governance, including the delivery of essential services such as water and electricity.
There had been no U.S. or coalition presence in Maysan province for well over a year, Foote said, before Iraqi military operations commenced in June. The province, he said, had once regularly experienced illegal militia influence as well as arms-smuggling operations from the border with Iran.
But things are much better today, Foote said.
"We're working closely with Colonel Battaglia and his soldiers to help Iraqi authorities deliver evidence of a better life and optimism for the future to the citizens of Maysan," Foote said.
Most of Maysan province's citizens, Foote said, today say that "life is much better in the wake of military operations because of increased stability."
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has funded more than 60 infrastructure projects worth $20 million in Maysan province to date, Foote said. All of those projects, he said, were requested by the Maysan provincial government.
The Iraqi central government, Foote said, has earmarked more than $100 million for reconstruction projects in Maysan province. Another $10 million in Iraqi-provided funding, he said, is going to U.S.- military-managed reconstruction projects under way in Maysan province.
Battaglia said improved security in Iraq has enabled him to send an 1,800-soldier contingent to Maysan province to help with Iraqi border-interdiction operations there as part of efforts to stem weapons smuggling from neighboring Iran. These efforts have visibly paid off, the colonel said, noting much smaller numbers of weapons caches containing Iranian-sourced explosives and other weapons have been uncovered lately.
"We have interdicted a lot of the improvised explosive devices," Battaglia said, as well as explosively formed penetrators – roadside and rocket-launched bombs designed specifically to pierce armor-hulled vehicles -- and other ordnance.
"What we have found is, in the rockets in particular, we find that the manufacture and the lot numbers are Iranian-made," Battaglia said.