The Iraqi government, with a complete security cabinet, is now standing on its own. The seating of a government based on national unity was a critical precursor for future success. In cooperation with the Iraqi government, we now have an opportunity to capitalize on recent successes afforded by the seating of the new government and the death of al-Qaida in Iraq’s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, laying the foundation for future prosperity in Iraq.
This month about 2,500 Iraqis are being released throughout Iraq as a visible symbol of national unity and reconciliation. Baghdad security is steadily improving as a result of operation Amaliya Ma’am Ila al-Amam, Together Forward, which started in mid-June. And provincial Iraqi control of Muthanna is set for this July. All of these demonstrate a real and tangible beginning to a new phase in Iraq’s history.
Violence is not widespread in Iraq. Fourteen of the 18 provinces, which have 63 percent of the population, experience less than nine attacks per day. Violence is centered in a 30-mile radius around Baghdad. Eleven of those 14 provinces have less than one attack per day. While violence is still at unacceptable levels, it is declining when compared to the week following the Samarra mosque bombing.
However, violence and troop reductions alone are not an accurate measure of success in Iraq. We have achieved great progress with the Iraqi security forces and have 265,000 military and police. This translates to three divisions, 18 brigades and 69 battalions in the fight now. By the end of this summer, 75 percent of the Iraqi Army brigades will be in the lead. Ninety percent of the divisions will be in the lead by the end of the year.
Another positive sign of progress is the upcoming transfer of the Muthanna province to Iraqi control. Muthanna will be the first of the 18 provinces to assume full security responsibility. Achieving this is an involved process that shows Iraqi success in developing the government and security forces. As always, the Coalition stands by to assist, but the first line of defense for emergencies in the province will be the Iraqi security forces.
Al-Qaida in Iraq forces are significantly hurt, and the elected Iraqi government headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is making a strong stand and representing the Iraqi people – not sectarian agendas. Operation Amaliya Ma’am Ila al-Amam is succeeding in making Baghdad safer. Iraqis are increasingly taking control of their country as evidenced by the upcoming transfer of the Muthanna province. We are well postured to make 2006 a decisive year in Iraq.