January 4th, 2007 02:47 EST
New year brings transition, change
BAGHDAD — “Historic highs and heartbreaking lows” – that is how the Multi-National Force - Iraq spokesman summed up 2006 in Iraq during a press conference Wednesday at the Combined Press Conference Center here.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV said that despite the notable achievements the Iraqi people made in 2006, key challenges still lie ahead.
As a major achievement in 2006, Caldwell cited the establishment of the first permanent democratically elected government in Iraq’s history.
Contrasting the new government with the previous regime, Caldwell said,
“Months of negotiation produced a national unity government, rather than a government that privileges the interest of one sect or the ethnicity of another.”
He also referenced the first significant pieces of legislation passed by the Iraqi Council of Representatives – the Import Liberalization Law and the Investment Law – as signs of progress.
“The Iraqi people continue to overcome the legacy of 35 years of brutal dictatorship and to build a secure, stable and self-governing nation,” he said.
Besides establishing a national unity government, Caldwell said the Iraqi people took significant steps toward assuming responsibility for their own security in 2006.
“On January 1st, 2006, only one of Iraqis’ 10 Army divisions was responsible for its own battle space, meaning it would plan, coordinate and conduct security operations independent of Coalition forces. Today 80 percent of Iraqis’ divisions are in the lead,” he said.
Caldwell also noted that in 2006 the Iraqi Army and Police assumed overall responsibility for all law enforcement and security activities in three provinces: Al-Muthanna, Dhi Qar and An-Najaf.
However, while these achievements are important, Caldwell said that “neither the Multi-National Force – Iraq nor the Iraqi people achieved the strategic conditions we wanted at the end of 2006.”
“Iraq continues to be plagued by unacceptably high levels of violence,” he said, adding that “the February bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra triggered a dramatic increase in sectarian violence, which now is the gravest strategic threat to our objectives in Iraq and the expressed desire of the Iraqi people to live in a multi-ethnic, unified country.”
Caldwell also mentioned the loss of Coalition force member lives in Iraq in 2006 and the deaths of innocent Iraqis caused by terrorist and extremist death squads as “terrible” tragedies.
Caldwell stated that the Iraqis will need to step up and meet the challenges brought in with the new year.
“We open 2007 facing significant challenges. Iraq security forces must not only continue to improve their capabilities, but must also work to gain the confidence of all Iraqi people,” Caldwell said.
He also noted that the government of Iraq and the Council of Representatives will have to rise above past divisions to realize Iraqi people’s desire for unity.
“This will likely entail difficult decisions on reforms to the de- Ba'athification process, and hard compromises necessary for national reconciliation,” Caldwell said.
He expressed MNF-I’s support in this endeavor.
“The Multi-National Force – Iraq is committed to conducting operations and developing Iraqi forces in order to provide the stability necessary for this political process to occur,” said Caldwell.
By the summer time frame, the transition of the Iraqi Army divisions will be made to the Iraqi Ground Forces Command who will control all Iraqi ground forces. By the fall, all the provinces will be under Iraqi control, said Caldwell.
Caldwell said 2007 will be a year of transition and adaptation, and Coalition force members will support of the efforts of the government of Iraq.