'Many signs point to a stronger Iraq'

DUBAI — January 6 marked Iraqi Armed Forces Day. As the situation in the country remains delicate, Khaleej Times contacted US Central Command to get their take on how the Iraqi general election went, and how they feel the security forces are developing.

By Peter Donnelly

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Published: Tue 10 Jan 2006, 9:56 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 6:54 PM

Colonel Michael Belcher is the Deputy Chief of Current Operations. He has seen first-hand the problems the Iraqis face, and is involved at the highest level for providing security in Iraq.

How do you feel the election in Iraq went?

Security related to the election went extremely well and the election itself enjoyed widespread participation. The Iraqis elected a permanent government that will lead the country for the next four years. That is a significant accomplishment. Participation in the political process has increased with each election, from about 58 per cent in January to 63 per cent in October's constitutional referendum, and the December 15 parliamentary election drew about 70 per cent participation. This is a clear sign that the Iraqis desire a voice in their future and that the Iraqi Security Forces were successful in creating the conditions to ensure the vote could take place.

How do you think the Iraqi security forces are coping with the insurgency?

(There is) a maturing and more capable Iraqi security force. We captured 67 foreign nationals in November. This was our highest total since July. A large percentage of the suicide bombers in Iraq are foreign fighters, and the Iraqi people know who belongs in their communities and this first-hand knowledge proves invaluable in identifying who is not a member of the community. It takes years and in many cases collective experience over a lifetime to truly understand all the cultural experience and expertise the Iraqi security forces already possess. The people of Iraq are having a positive impact on the security situation. In addition to an increase in call-in tips, we've seen an increase in walk-up tips to Iraqi police patrols — another benefit of having so many Iraqi security forces on the streets. This also is evidence of the growing confidence that the local populace has in local law enforcement. The Iraqi security forces understand their culture and Iraq better than anyone and this knowledge has proven absolutely vital in operations. The Iraqis can tell you who belongs in a certain town and what activity is suspicious based on first-hand knowledge of the area.

How long will the US military remain in Iraq?

We haven't set a time frame. It's conditions-based. The Iraqis realise that the US is a partner in supporting the course elected Iraqi officials and the Iraqi people choose for Iraq — whether that's in the form of troop support or whatever role the Iraqis deem as most appropriate. Our force structure will adjust accordingly based on conditions on the ground and the direction the elected Iraqi government sets.

What does the future hold for Iraq?

As the recent vote proved, there are millions of Iraqis who are committed to democracy and ensuring the insurgency does not disrupt the future prosperity of Iraq. Year 2006 represents a shifting of balance where Iraqis will increasingly take the lead.

There are many positive signs that point to a stronger Iraq. Besides, the political progress, the Iraqi forces continue to grow in capacity, capability and experience. Currently, there are more than 223,000 trained and equipped forces.

Economic progress continues as the number of businesses registered with the Iraqi Ministry of Trade has jumped from 8,000 to about 31,000. The number of firms on the Iraqi Stock Exchange has increased from 13 in 2003 to 87 today. Reconstruction continues as 2,000 projects have been completed and the 300th project has been started.

However, keep in mind, progress in the Iraqi political process will do more than anything we can do militarily to draw people away from the insurgency. The Iraqis are clearly moving in the right direction but institution building requires time and patience.

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