Iraq — Troops See Return on Investment in Iraq, General Says

WASHINGTON — 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.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)