By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 3, 2008 - Violence in Iraq is at an all-time low since the beginning of the war, but challenges remain as a result of the improved security situation, the commander of coalition ground forces said today during a Baghdad news conference. "While [coalition forces] are all encouraged by our remarkable success over the past 10 months in our movement towards achieving sustainable security, we must recognize that we are by no means finished," Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, told reporters. "In fact, security success has allowed for more challenging issues to surface."
Professionalizing the police force, enhancing army capabilities and maintaining border security are some of the issues toward which forces in Iraq are shifting their efforts, along with improving job security and essential services for the Iraqi people, Austin said.
"We should take full advantage of this opportunity to solidify our gains and help Iraq achieve a stable state," he said.
Austin said he hopes to develop combat enablers such as aviation, artillery, engineering, intelligence-gathering and logistical assets of the Iraqi Army to improve them as a counterinsurgency force.
"I'm confident that in the foreseeable future [the Iraqi army] will be able to sustain their operations with significantly reduced coalition support," he said.
While the Iraqi Army has made significant strides, coalition forces continue to develop the police force to achieve the same level of competence. The goal is for the police force to be "viewed by the Iraqi people as effective at protecting the local populace," the general said.
These efforts will lead to more jobs and better essential services, such as water and electricity, he said. Increased security also will lead to more foreign investors actively seeking business opportunities in Iraq, he added.
"Together with the Iraqi security forces, [coalition forces] have dealt blows to the enemies of Iraq," he said. "Coalition and Iraqi forces have killed or captured hundreds of individuals who played key roles in al-Qaida, and the removal of these individuals has significantly degraded al-Qaida's ability to plan, resource, execute and to capitalize against the Iraqi people."
November saw fewer attacks than any month since the war began in March 2003. Attacks are down 80 percent since March of this year, while coalition and Iraqi forces are finding and clearing 24 percent more weapons caches now than in 2007, keeping them out of the hands of insurgents, the general said.