Monday, September 1, 2008

Improvements offer Iraqis optimism for the future 1 Sept 08

The UK's most senior military representative in southern Iraq has given an upbeat assessment of the progress he believes is being made in the region.

General Officer Commanding MND(SE), Maj Gen Andy Salmon, chats to local shopkeepers and businessmen during a visit to the al-Hayyaniyah district of Basra on Wednesday, 20 August. [Picture: Cpl Rob Knight]

Major General Andy Salmon's views echo those made by his predecessor, Major General Barney White-Spunner, from whom Maj Gen Salmon took over recently. On his return to the UK last month, Maj Gen White-Spunner praised the progress made in Basra in recent months, in particular the work of the Iraqi Security Forces in ridding the city of rogue militias as well as the increase in foreign investment.

2008 has seen a significant and noticeable improvement in the security situation in Iraq. Violence is down to levels not seen since 2003/04 and there are a number of signs that a degree of normality is slowly returning to a country that has been plagued by terrorist and ethno-sectarian violence:

"Basra and the surrounding region has undergone an incredible transformation over the last five months and there is a real sense of optimism," Maj Gen Salmon explained. "Since taking over command in MND(SE) I am eager to get on with the task of helping Basrawis rebuild their great country and supporting the Iraqi Government in providing peace and prosperity.

"A stable and secure environment is the foundation upon which much-needed economic development can take place. With the Iraqi Security Forces increasingly capable of protecting the Iraqi people, one of the key challenges remains how to help national and local government build civil capacity and stimulate economic growth so that the ordinary Iraqi citizen feels the benefit of his country’s considerable wealth."

As the security situation improves markets are reopening and the amount of trading is increasing. [Picture: MOD]

The country still faces a number of significant political, economic and administrative challenges, as well as security concerns that will take time to resolve. Nevertheless, a number of positive indicators give cause for hopefulness that a more secure and stable Iraq is gradually emerging.
The successful Charge of the Knights military operation in Basra, which began in March, demonstrated the Iraqi government’s intent to crack down on violent extremists and criminals regardless of religious or political affiliation. Subsequent operations in Sadr City, Mosul, Al Amarah and Diyala have reinforced the message and boosted public confidence in the Government:

"The last five months provides an indication of what a powerful partnership Iraq and Britain have but I realise there is much work to done, and I am confident that by working together we can achieve our goals. So it is with a sense of optimism that I look to the future and the challenges that lie ahead," Maj Gen Salmon added.

Improvements in electricity generation capability is essential to meeting the aspirations of the Iraqi people [Picture: MOD]

Several representatives have now been appointed to areas where there have been recent military operations, armed with considerable special funds to fast track regeneration and reconstruction projects. In addition six Arab countries have recently undertaken to appoint Ambassadors and to open Embassies and consulates in Iraq, signalling the return of normal regional diplomatic relations. Furthermore, recent high level visits to Baghdad – from King Abdullah II of Jordan and the Turkish PM, as well as Ministerial visits from several Gulf States – have reinforced this trend.

Infrastructure developments and inward investment
Although demand still outstrips supply, electricity generation has reached record post-war levels this year and investment in new generating capacity is planned. A new airport at Najaf has recently been opened, and improvements to Basra and Irbil are in train, adding to the network of provincial airports across the country. The development of Umm Qasar port is also playing an essential role of increasing import and exports from the country.

Foreign inward investment has now reached over $7.4Bn and an increasing number of visits from international investors demonstrate that Iraq’s business potential is clearly recognised. Work has also begun on a new 5-star hotel in the centre of Baghdad.

The opening of new embassies in Central Baghdad signals the return to normal diplomatic relations with Arab neighbours [Picture: MOD]

Maj Gen Salmon's view that Iraq is heading in the right direction is shared by General David Petraeus. In an interview with the International Herald Tribune newspaper on Thursday 21 August 2008 Gen Petraeus, who recently handed over command of Multi National Forces in Iraq to General Raymond Odierno, compared life in Iraq today to the situation he found when he arrived early in 2007:

"I don't know that it was a death spiral but it was a pretty dire situation," he said. "There have been very substantial gains at this point. "But don't take any of this to imply that we think we're anywhere near finished, or that there's anything but an enormous amount of hard work going on. It's not durable yet. It's not self sustaining - there is still a lot of work to do."

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