By Ian Graham
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
June 11, 2010 - Troops and equipment continue to leave Iraq as the drawdown deadline approaches, and in their place, the Iraqi people are stepping up to take control of their country, a spokesman with U.S. Forces Iraq said.
Army Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza spoke yesterday with bloggers on a "DoDLive" Bloggers Roundtable about the progress made not only by Iraqi security forces, but by the nation as a whole over the past year.
On June 1, two important milestones occurred in Iraq, providing symbolic and substantive examples of the country and its security force's growth, Lanza said. First, the United States formally transitioned the last nine checkpoints it jointly staffed in the International Zone, or Green Zone, to Iraqi forces. Second, the Iraqi Supreme Court announced the certification of the March 7 election results, a critical step in the process of peacefully forming the new government.
The overall improved security situation today and the ever-increasing capabilities of the Iraqi forces are directly responsible for these two accomplishments, Lanza said.
"I think this is indicative, first, of all of the greater stability within Iraq. It's also indicative of the fact that this is allowing us to transition from combat operations to stability operations, on 1 September, as part of our responsible drawdown," he said. "I would highlight the fact that as a result of this improved security, Iraq has been able to develop strategic depth and has also moved really far both economically and diplomatically."
The election is a critical step, Lanza said, because it's the first time Iraqis have had a truly open, democratic election, with 62 percent of citizens voting.
"They were actually able to choose the candidates that they wanted to, which is something that has never been done here before," the general said. "The four political parties ran on an agenda of national unity, and the two top issues for the people who voted were jobs and essential services, with security being No. 4."
The improvements have manifested themselves in a number of other ways, Lanza said, from decreased violence to changes in social and government arenas. In southern Iraq, from Babel province to Basra, he noted, there has been a large downturn in attacks.
"Violence in southern Iraq has tapered off," he said. "Just last week there was a total of nine attacks."
Previously, police in the country had trouble controlling violence in many areas, and in some cases were considered perpetrators or accomplices in attacks. But Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani has turned the force around, Lanza said. Now, the 40,000-strong federal police corps is well-trained and loyal to the constitution, he said.
"The loyalty to the force has been tremendous and that has broken down some of the barriers that perhaps you have seen in the past few years with the last minister of interior and how the police was really involved in sectarian violence," the general said.
"I would say the fact that ... we have really broken away from sectarian violence here has allowed the police to actually grow in the eyes of the public," he added. "The latest polling data we have here is that 80 percent of the population supports the Iraqi army and 70 percent supports the Iraqi police, which is a tremendous number and part of that obviously comes from the success during the election."
In addition to the certified election results earlier this month, Lanza said, there also is a major feminist shift in the Iraqi government and security forces. There are growing numbers of women serving in the Iraqi army and police, and the Iraqi Council of Representatives is about 25 percent female – 82 members out of 325.
"It's the largest amount of women representatives in the Arab world and I would postulate perhaps within most governments right now that 20 percent of the [legislative body] will be women," he said. "It's not just helping women move forward, it's also changing the culture of how men in this culture approach women, not only in the workplace, but in the country."
The result, Lanza said, is a smooth transition out of the country for U.S. forces as they draw down to 50,000 troops by Sept. 1. The U.S. military has closed or transferred 370 bases in the country so far, and moved some 700,000 pieces of equipment back to the United States, Army Central Command in Kuwait, or to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.