|Greetings from Baghdad|
Once again, greetings from Baghdad and the Headquarters of the Multi-National Force in Iraq. Since my last report to you Iraq has once again traversed another key milestone. On June 30th all US combat forces redeployed outside of Iraq’s cities, villages, and localities in accordance with the US-Iraq Security Agreement. Just like the transition to full Iraqi sovereignty that occurred on January 1st and the successful provincial elections of January 30th, June 30th marks yet another important step for both the US and Iraq in achieving a stable, secure, and self-reliant Iraq that will be a strategic partner for America in the years to come.
Clearly, there remain challenges as we move forward, but we are moving forward. There have been some high profile attacks on civilians and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in recent weeks as insurgents, terrorists, and criminals test the ISF and the government and seek to incite sectarian violence in order to undermine the new political order in Iraq. Thus far, the ISF have stepped up by arresting terrorists, providing presence in the neighborhoods, and limiting the effects of such attacks. Most importantly, the Iraqi people are confident that these attacks are not sectarian in nature, but a demonstration of the terrorists’ wantonness to attack innocents.
As Iraq moves toward its national parliamentary elections in January 2010, most Iraqis have long since parted ways with the bankrupt ideologies of radical insurgents and now seek to use the political process to achieve their goals – national unity and national reconciliation. Our mission has likewise undergone transitions, but we remain focused on assisting our Iraqi counterparts anyway we can to see that their national objectives are met. The campaign season will be heating up here soon and next six months will have a profound effect on the future of this great nation.
Border Enforcement Initiatives – One of the areas where US forces and the US Embassy are assisting the Iraqis is border enforcement. Last time I mentioned some of the initiatives ongoing to build capacity for Iraq to secure its borders. One very significant initiative is the construction of “Border Enforcement Roads.” Most of Iraq’s borders are in some of the most inhospitable areas of the Middle East, especially along the border with Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The US Army Corps of Engineers is constructing border roads under the Foreign Military Sales program. These border roads are designed to support border outposts and enable Iraqi Security Forces to move more quickly, safely, and reliably to intercept individuals attempting to gain unauthorized entry into Iraq. This has huge security and economic implications for the country. With Iraqi funding and priority going to the Syrian and Iranian borders first, the Corps expects this $181M dollar project to begin this fall.
Education and Literacy – There are up to 5 million functionally illiterate Iraqis with less than a fourth grade education. Last month, the command hosted the first-ever combined agency and non-governmental organization (NGO) literacy conference in Iraq. The theme, “NGOs Raising the Banner of Literacy,” focused on literacy education for both male and female Iraqis. Among the 76 attendees were representatives from the Baghdad Provincial Council, Ministry of Civil Society, Education Committee from the parliament, Ministry of Education, the US Embassy, and over 40 NGOs. The National Literacy Campaign aims to dramatically reduce the high illiteracy rate by providing basic literacy training to 1 million Iraqis per year for the next five years. Clearly, this will help build a workforce needed by Iraq’s growing economy and contribute to a safe and secure environment. A major commitment by the attendees is to pursue amendments in the parliament for the National Literacy Law to garner necessary Government of Iraq funding for the campaign.
Electricity – One of the areas of civil capacity that gets a lot of attention both here in Iraq and at home in the US is electricity. The command’s Energy Services Division along with the US Embassy’s economic section has worked closely with the Ministry of Electricity to increase electric power generation across the country. Since the start of the war in 2003 Iraq has increased electric power generation by 35% above pre-war levels. That’s good news. But brownouts and limited hours of electricity in Iraqi homes persists for two significant reasons. First, overall demand is up 66% over pre-war levels as Iraqi have increased access to more and more consumer commodities like refrigerators, air conditioners, TVs, computers, and more. And secondly, the electricity distribution infrastructure remains antiquated at best. Not surprisingly, this has led to a two-fold strategy for the Ministry of Electricity. Contracts are being let to large corporate partners like General Electric to increase overall production in the coming years. At the same time, the government and private sector partners are working to increase retail distribution to the average Iraqi household and business. This will take time, but there is a clear recognition of what must be done and there is institutional and bureaucratic movement in the right direction.
Thank you once again for the comments I receive on this reports. More importantly, thank you for your supporting the young men and women who serve our nation so admirably everyday here in Iraq. You would be very proud of them, as I am. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
All the best.
GUY C. SWAN III
Major General, US Army
Chief of Staff
Multi-National Force – Iraq
Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory
APO AE 09342