Iraq Update from MG Swan:
Belated Happy New Year from Baghdad. The new year here rang in a very different strategic situation in Iraq due, in part, to two major milestones. On 31 December 2008 UN Security Council Resolution 1790, which authorized the Multi-National Force in Iraq, expired and on 1 January 2009 Iraq once again became a sovereign nation. The presence of US forces in Iraq is now governed by the US-Iraq bilateral Security Agreement ratified by the Iraqi parliament in December. US forces continue their mission now as guests invited by a host nation. Clearly, this new strategic environment changes the conditions under which our courageous young service members execute their tasks, but the mission remains the same and our troopers remain committed to long term mission success.
Provincial Elections – The second milestone will come on 31 January 2009 when 15 million20Iraqis once again go to the polls, this time in provincial elections. In the most sweeping set of elections since the famous 2005 national elections (you will recall the ink-stained fingers), Iraqis in 14 of 18 provinces cast ballots for provincial councils and governors. There is a challenge period that expires near the end of February and newly elected provincials will be seated in March. The remaining four provinces that make up the Kurdish region of the country will conduct elections in May for provincial councils and a new Kurdish Regional Government. There will be other local district and sub-district elections throughout the summer and the year will culminate with the quadrennial national elections in December which will result in a new parliament and potentially a new Prime Minister. I guess you can see why 2009 is called the "year of elections" and year that is truly pivotal to the future success of Iraq. The more Iraqis get to practice the voting process the better they become at this critical element of representative government.
Security and Stability – I mentioned last time that the command’s focus on building security force capacity is shifting from the military to other security forces. With US assistance Iraq is building a very credible set of "homeland security forces." Under the Ministry of the Inte rior, we are seeing the growth of two important agencies – the Directorate of Border Enforcement (DBE) and the Ports of Entry Directorate (POED). Both of these agencies, along with the Coastal Border Guard, are charged with safeguarding Iraqi borders in order to stop the flow of foreign terrorists and facilitators and enhance Iraq’s economic situation. Likewise, the Facilities Protection Service and Oil Police are improving their critical infrastructure protection capabilities. Along with the highly respected National Police, the Iraqi version of the Italian Carabinieri, Iraq’s non-military security forces are growing in size and professionalism daily. This is good news for the people of Iraq and has profound impact on the confidence of potential foreign investors, diplomatic mission, and international organizations that are seeking to establish a presence in Iraq.
Economic Development – As the security situation in Iraq stabilizes, the focus of MNF-I and the US Embassy is shifting to assist the Government of Iraq (GoI) in other areas. One critical area is economic development. As Iraq works its way out of decades of a command economy mentality, there are a number of key initiatives underway – primarily driven by Iraqis themselves – with support from USAID, the UN, OECD, World Bank, other NGOs, and the international business community. Curren tly, Iraq’s economy is totally dependent on oil production and oil prices. So in order to diversify, the GoI has established a very important institution – the National Investment Commission (NIC). Part of the NIC’s responsibility is the issuance of licenses for large-scale development and construction projects. Because this is a new initiative the NIC is still developing rules and regulations that the NIC Chairman must submit to the Council of Ministers for approval. We are encouraging an expeditious approval process as there are currently 34 pending projects totaling over $2.2B dollars awaiting licensure. These projects include hotels to support a growing tourism industry, agricultural greenhouses, livestock feed factories, residential complexes, brick, asphalt, and cement factories, and even shopping and entertainment venues. At the provincial level, Provincial Investment Commissions (PIC) are standing up as well. This is occurring with mixed success with some provinces at early entry stage while some, like Basrah Province, have well-developed investment strategies (see www.investbasrah.com). ; This year, as with elections, will see a concerted local, provincial, and national focus on attracting both domestic and foreign investment in Iraq. It goes without saying, that this is perhaps the most important way to solidify the security gains that have occurred over the past year as Iraq moves forward to self-sufficiency, provision of essential services, and=2 0good governance.
All of the above and many other economic, political, diplomatic, security, and rule of law efforts are critical to our ultimate goal – that of a achieving a strategic partnership between Iraq and the United States. There are many hopeful signs as I look across the country, but we must remain vigilant to guard against forces that seek to undermine Iraq in its effort to shake off years of tyranny in order to assume a central role in the future of the Middle East.
If you have questions or areas of interest you would like me to discuss in these periodic updates, please let me know. Email is best at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And as always, thank you for your support of the great Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Civilians who serve on this amazing US Embassy and MNF-I team.