By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
March 23, 2009 - The Iraqi security forces are performing high-level and fast-paced operations in Basra, making progress in other areas possible, the commander of Multinational Division – Southeast said today. British army Maj. Gen. Andy Salmon said the "atmospherics" in Basra are positive and that the citizens have high expectations for the future.
"People are content with the security here, very confident in the way the Iraqi security forces are delivering that, but they're also focused on jobs, health and education for the future," Salmon said during a video teleconference with Pentagon reporters today.
The Iraqi army and police are harmonizing their operations, and this has allowed impressive economic and governance gains, Salmon said.
Still, there is a long way to go, he said.
Iraqi security forces are beginning to deal with the normal things that police departments all over the world deal with: "crime, even corruption, in places like Umm Qasr port ... and, of course, keeping an eye out for any resurgent terrorist activity," Salmon said.
There is a much diminished and incapacitated militia threat that has diminished "to virtually zero," Salmon said. "But I think what you do have is a residual threat."
There are still terror cells intent on doing damage to the progress that has been made. Those who were in the militias seem to be encouraged by the progress themselves, "so a spirit of reconciliation and amnesty has taken place and is still continuing," he said.
Property values in Basra – Iraq's second-largest city and major oil port – are rising and there are construction cranes all around the city.
"There are more small businesses, partly fueled by some of the micro-loan work that we're doing," he said. "Malls are opening where there are some Western goods on display for sale. And there's even a great five-star hotel being built by ... a local Basrawi."
Salmon and his British brigade arrived in August. British and American forces supported the Iraqi forces during six months of full-spectrum counterinsurgency work, he said.
"The Iraqi security forces had to raise their game, and they did so," he said. Coalition forces helped the Iraqis with building better command and control structures.
"I think in retrospect, looking back now, we saw a turning point around September/October, when the violence really changed," Salmon said. "The attacks became infrequent, fortunately. The Iraqi security forces were very much on top. And for the average Basrawi on the street, security ceased to be an issue. And in the parties that happened after Ramadan, ... people were starting to make comparisons with not just the year before or even the six years previous, but actually 30 years. This is the first time for 30 years that they've really started to enjoy themselves."
Private investors are working with provincial, city and coalition officials to improve the port at Umm Qasr.
At the end of this rotation, the British will leave, Salmon said.
"There will be a new headquarters forming called Headquarters Multinational Division-South toward the end of the month, which will stand up and will look at the coalition forces' activity in support of Iraqis, of course, for the whole of the southern nine provinces, from the Baghdad belt right down to Basra," he said.
About 2,000 more American troops will join the roughly 1,500 already in the region and they will work on some of the long-range support issues.