Positive Trends in Anbar Permanent, Coalition Commander Says

Yes, you read that right. It’s the title that DoD put on the press release. “Permanent” is an awfully big word.

Iraqi security forces in the province are shouldering the security burden, and they are 19 months away from assuming full control in what was once the al Qaeda stronghold in Iraq, Marine Maj. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin, commander of Multinational Force West, told Pentagon reporters.

Violence in the Sunni-dominated province has dropped precipitously. November was the 10th month in a row of declining violence, Gaskin said during a video-teleconference from Baghdad. Put another way, this time last year, there were 460 enemy incidents each week. In the past week, there were 40, he said.

“The Anbaris … have seen the brutal way in which al Qaeda operated,” Gaskin said. “They don’t want to return to that. In fact, they have what’s known as ‘blood feuds’ with al Qaeda, meaning it takes about six generations to eliminate that type of strife. The Anbaris are tired of violence.”

Gaskin said Anbaris want a normal life. “They want to have their kids go to school. They like to have employment,” he said. “And so I think that part is permanent.”

The security umbrella is allowing Anbaris to develop, he said. The Iraqi security forces in the province are relatively new, he said, yet they are taking on more and more of the security burden.

“What we have done is given them the opportunity to do that by training along with them, by providing an example for them: mentorship, leadership,” the general said. “And I see this as we improve their capacity, and we, meaning the coalition forces, are able to withdraw back into overwatch. We can see now that these forces will be capable of doing and operating on their own. Independence, self-reliance, all is coming.”

The Iraqi forces, both army and police, are evolving to be self-sufficient logistically, tactically and operationally, he said.

Key to success in Anbar has been the development of Iraqi security forces. Overall, 40,000 Iraqis serve in the army or police in the province. “The Iraqi security forces are acquitting themselves magnificently,” Gaskin said. “They just need time to gain the experience required. You cannot buy experience; it has to be earned, and it takes time to do that.”

He said embedded transition teams, consisting of about 1,700 U.S. soldiers, Marines and sailors, have been crucial to the Iraqi progress. Servicemembers partner with Iraqi units, and live and work side by side with their Iraqi counterparts. “They share the same trials and hardships, and the satisfaction of being there when the units perform in the field,” Gaskin said. “They are trainers, mentors and facilitators. I believe in the importance of their mission, so much so that we have increased the number of personnel that we assign to these transition teams by 40 percent.”

Anbaris are making progress from the governance and economic standpoints, as well, the general said. The security situation has improved to the extent that Anbar’s provincial council finally is able to meet and operate in the province. “They were basically in exile because of murder and intimidation,” Gaskin said.

Provincial leaders are dealing with town and city councils and with federal-level officials. They have learned about budgets and are requesting funds from the central government. “This is new,” Gaskin said. Under Saddam Hussein, “the money was force-fed. Now it’s requested through budgetary requirements.”

This is an astounding statement. Ten months ago, around the time we went to Iraq, Anbar province was regarded as the most dangerous part of the country and Ramadi might have been the most dangerous city in the world, up alongside Mogadishu, Somalia in terms of daily carnage. We’ve been seeing the evidence of progress for months, and now, the MFN-I says attacks are all but gone and the progress that has been made there is permanent. That’s astounding and extremely welcome news. How come it hasn’t been reported anywhere?