By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
July 22, 2010 - U.S. forces deployed in Iraq are seeing a return on their investments as they prepare to drawdown from seven years of military operations there, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Iraq said today.
Security, infrastructure, governance and other aspects of a fully functioning, sovereign nation are coming into sight in Iraq in such a way that servicemembers, many of whom have deployed there before, are seeing the fruits of their labor, Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, spokesman and director for strategic effects for U.S. Forces-Iraq, said during an American Forces Press Service interview.
"We have soldiers who have been there two, three, and four years," he said. "I see the sacrifices that have been made there, and they are seeing a return on their investment. They see the opportunities they've generated in the country. I think they're very encouraged by what they see."
Lanza is in Washington this week with Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of U.S. Forces–Iraq, for a conference between military and State Department officials to determine the details of the military's handoff of operations to the State Department, as Operation Iraqi Freedom gives way to Operation New Dawn.
The transition is part of the military's drawdown of forces in Iraq, which stands around 71,000, but is to be 50,000 by Sept. 1, with all U.S. troops out of the country by Dec. 31, 2011.
Lanza called "The Strategic Framework Agreement" being developed between the Defense and State departments regarding the transition in Iraq as "a seminal event."
"I've been in the military a long time and this is the first time I've seen an actual campaign plan between the military and civilian agencies," the general said. He attributed much of the success in Iraq to the teamwork between Odierno and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill, who are brokering the agreement.
Officials can move ahead with the strategic framework because of the gains made in Iraq, Lanza said. Some of those gains include:
- A 50 percent drop in high-profile attacks since U.S. forces left Iraq's cities and towns at the end of June 2009;
- A turnout of 62 percent of citizens voting in the March national elections, and Iraqi security forces' successful oversight of the elections;
- The Iraqi government's ability to sign 12 contracts for oil sales this year;
- The presence of 47 embassies in Iraq, and Iraq's first ambassador to Egypt in 20 years;
- The U.S. military's transfer of all detention facilities to the Iraqis;
After U.S. forces moved out of Iraq's cities and towns at the end of June 2009, high-profile attacks there dropped by half, Lanza said.
Iraq's military and police forces are now 660,000 strong, Lanza said, and are capable of handling all security within the country. Police training and procedures have improved to the point that polls show that more than 70 percent of Iraqis have confidence in the force, he said.
At the same time, Iraq now has a modern, evidentiary-based judicial system with forensic laboratories and procedures for searches and arrests, Lanza said. Police and judges are no longer beholden to political parties or individuals, but to Iraq's new constitution, he said.
There still is work to be done in Iraq, Lanza said. The air force, with about 7,000 airmen and 104 aircraft, needs to grow; as does the economy, especially with foreign investors. Training of security forces also must continue, with emphasis on border security where smuggling is common, he said. More urgently, Iraq needs to seat its new government so it can move ahead in serving its citizens. Finally, much attention still needs to be paid to ethnic tensions between Kurds and Arabs in the northern provinces, he said.
Even with remaining challenges, the fact that Iraqis have widely rejected extremist ideologies and taken a stake in voting, shows hope for the country's future. And that's something U.S. troops can be proud of, Lanza said.