WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, April 27, 2007) - Progress continues in Iraq despite headline-grabbing enemy attacks, a top U.S. general in Iraq said yesterday.
"There's some areas that we need to work a little bit harder at," Army Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott said of the Baghdad plus-up strategy. He pointed to vehicle-bombs as a primary area of concern.
Maj. Gen. Scott, deputy chief of staff for strategic effects for Multinational Force Iraq, told online journalists in a conference call that while there has been a slight increase in the number of "spectacular" car-bomb attacks around Baghdad, there has also been positive movement as a result of the U.S.-Iraqi plus-up strategy.
"Overall sectarian violence has decreased. Overall violence in the city of Baghdad has decreased," he said.
With U.S. troop levels still below their full projected strength under the plan, Maj. Gen. Scott said it is too early to accurately gauge lasting progress on the ground.
"The force is still moving in," the general said. "A real true assessment probably won't be able to be done until mid- to late summer after all the forces are in and we've been able to conduct the operation in its entirety."
The joint U.S.-Iraqi operations are being conducted with an eye to buying time for the Iraqi government to make critical strides of its own, Maj. Gen. Scott explained. He characterized the pace of the Iraqi political debate as slow to anxious Western audiences, but impressive given the fact the Iraqi national assembly is still in its infancy.
"We need to understand that the Council of Representatives has been an acting body for 11 months, and they are moving very slowly forward" on key unifying legislation, Maj. Gen. Scott said. "But for any government that has only been in formation for this short a period, I commend them for the progress that they've made."
The general referred to several political battles over hydrocarbons revenues, reform of the de-Baathification regime, constitutional review, election legislation, and other issues that threaten to further divide Iraq's various ethnic and sectarian factions.
"These are huge legislative actions," he said. "Each of them has direct impact on the national reconciliation."
Maj. Gen. Scott said U.S. officials are assisting the Iraqi representatives in negotiating acceptable compromise positions.
"No doubt there's a lot of work that needs to be done on each of these legislation items, and it's not going to be easy, but we're working with them on all of them," he said. "It needs to be done correctly."
The general deflected criticisms of the Iraqi government's political will, noting its members have stood up to fierce challenges with a constantly increasing sense of urgency.
Recalling the April 12 suicide bombing inside the Council of Representatives building, Maj. Gen. Scott noted the Iraqi members of parliament met the very next day to condemn the violence that killed one of their peers.
"A weak government would not have met the next day, but the Council of Representatives met in full session the next day and declared their full support against the terrorist activities," he said. "This government here in Iraq is determined to continue to prosecute this war."
Maj. Gen. Scott explained that blame could not be attributed to any one political party for delays in passing key bills.
"It's the normal process of sitting down together and reconciling their views," he said.
Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Scott noted, the Iraqi security forces are advancing at their own rate, to the extent that in some areas they are assuming control for entire provinces from the coalition. Maysan was the latest province to have command and control for its security operations taken up by the provincial government.
"Every day the government of Iraq becomes stronger - their government and their security forces," Maj. Gen. Scott said. In Maysan, he noted, "We're still embedded with the Iraqi forces, but they have the lead."
Maj. Gen. Scott said the United States is working with the United Nations to increase visibility on coalition operations in Iraq, and discussing areas for potentially expanded U.N. participation. The United States also is assisting the Iraqi government in executing its budget, he said.