By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
March 31, 2009 - The security and political situation in Iraq continues to improve, but ethno-sectarian agendas and other obstacles remain, according to Defense Department findings. Pentagon officials today released a congressionally mandated quarterly report on Iraq that focuses on December through February, a period during which pivotal security arrangements between Washington and Baghdad took effect.
"With the signing and implementation of the strategic framework agreement, the relationship with Iraq has become more mature and what we would consider a more normalized U.S.-Iraqi relationship through economic, diplomatic, cultural and security ties," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today. A status-of-forces agreement, implemented Jan. 1, calls for U.S. troops to begin transferring a greater share of power to Iraqi security forces, and provides a time frame for withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq.
The report to Congress, known colloquially as the 90-10 Report, characterized the transfer of authority to Iraq as "an important milestone" in relations between coalition and Iraqi forces. The agreement is highlighted by coordination on detention operations, it says.
"There have been no major issues to date in the coordination of detention operations," the report's executive summary states. "Multinational Force Iraq continues to release security detainees captured prior to Dec. 31, 2008, in a safe and orderly manner in consultation with the [Iraqi government]."
The report notes that President Barack Obama last month announced a plan to commence a phased drawdown of U.S. combat brigades from Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, and spells out U.S. goals prior to that deadline.
"By this time, U.S. forces will have completed the transition from combat and counterinsurgency activities to a more limited mission set that focuses on training and assisting the Iraqi security forces, providing force protection for U.S. military and civilian personnel and facilities, conducting targeted counter-terrorism operations, and supporting civilian agencies and international organizations in their capacity-building efforts," it reads.
The overall security situation slowly continues to improve, with security incidents remaining at low levels and a sense of normalcy returning to Iraqis' everyday life in much of the country, the report states.
Violence levels are on par with early 2004 figures, Whitman said.
"With respect to the security situation, we continue to see that improve, though with security incidents remaining at the same low levels as experienced in early 2004," he said. "During this reporting period, there were 35 percent fewer civilian deaths than during the last reporting period."
The report notes that although these security achievements are increasingly positive, they remain fragile in some places, most notably in Ninevah and Diyala provinces, as well as in some parts of Baghdad.
Whitman said that the round of safe provincial elections held in 14 of 18 Iraqi provinces in January demonstrates Iraqis choosing the political process over violence. But he added that sectarian allegiances within the country's population still play a divisive role.
"Despite some of these positive developments, national reconciliation continues to be hindered by the pursuit of ethno-sectarian agendas and disagreement over the distribution of power and resources at all levels."