By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 9, 2009 - With provincial elections in Iraq complete and the U.S.-Iraq security agreement in place, the way ahead in Iraq continues to be more clearly defined as each day passes, a U.S. commander in Iraq said. "In the last 60 days, we have had some very historic events, which have had some very significant impacts here in Iraq," Army Maj. Gen. David Perkins, director for Strategic Effects at Multinational Force Iraq, told bloggers and online journalists March 5 during a "DoD Live" bloggers roundtable. "I can tell you on the whole, things are going quite well, and these changes are for the better."
In the provincial elections Jan. 31, Iraqi citizens were able to vote for the first time for the candidate of their choice. "Before that, it was a closed list, so you could only vote for a political party and then they would choose who would seat," Perkins said.
The general noted there were numerous candidates to choose from -- more than 14,000 legally registered candidates vied for an estimated 400 slots.
"So, there's a lot of enthusiasm out there," he said.
The official, certified results will be announced tomorrow, Perkins said.
"In almost every single province, very few incumbents won," he said. "I think the message that was sent to them by their constituents ... [was] that they were very unhappy with the previous government, with the previous governors. They voted them out of office."
Through certified elections, positive change will occur in Iraq, Perkins said. "We want them to solve their problems via ballots and not bullets," he added.
Another positive step for Iraq is the reduction of U.S. forces. Since the height of the surge, forces already have been reduced by 20 percent. While U.S. forces have drawn down, Iraqi security forces have increased their capabilities, and have grown by at least 130,000 members, Perkins said.
"I think the model that we've been executing has proved to work fairly well -- that as we move out, the Iraqis move in," the general said. "I think it's also indicative to see that as the U.S. has begun a fairly dramatic withdrawal already. I think most people don't realize how many forces we've already returned, [and] that the security incidences have come down at even a faster rate."
The number of attacks has dramatically decreased from last year. "We had weeks where we averaged over 190 attacks a day in Iraq; we now routinely have days where we have less than 10 attacks a day throughout Iraq," he said.
Perkins said leaders are in a planning process based on President Barack Obama's recent decision to cease all combat operations in Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, and withdraw all U.S. forces by 2011.
"He's laid a timeline out there; he's given us mission requirements. It is very clear to us what the strategy is, and in fact that's exactly what we needed," Perkins said.
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg is assigned to the Defense Media Activity's Emerging Media directorate.)