Baghdad — IN THE AMERICAN media, Iraq’s steady progress toward security is frequently overshadowed by news of the latest act of mass terrorism. Yet for those of us who actually live here, progress is visible to all but the most irreconcilable skeptics. Just this week, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the United Nations’ special representative for Iraq, announced at a news conference in Baghdad that Iraq had achieved, or at least started to achieve, 75% of the benchmarks it set for itself in the U.N.-led International Compact with Iraq.
The military force increase by the United States called “the surge” is only one element in the Iraqi and coalition strategy. The other elements are the political/diplomatic initiatives and economic progress — and the reality is that the strategy is working in spite of the monumental obstacles presented by international terrorists and difficult conditions inside Iraq.
Iraqi and coalition security forces are having major success against Al Qaeda and some of the other groups that are the principal sources of the violence that aims to overthrow our young democracy. From Al Anbar to Diyala, from Nineveh to Basra, the atrocities of the terrorists against our people are backfiring, and our citizens are coming forward to offer themselves to counter them.
Increasingly, Iraqis are showing confidence in our steadily improving security forces by leading them to hidden weapons and terrorist locations.
Iraq is continuing to increase the size and capabilities of its forces in the expectation that soon it will be able to decrease its reliance on coalition forces for direct combat functions. In no other modern country has the creation of new forces been as rapid and effective as in Iraq.
We also recognize that we have a long way to go. In a number of “hot spots,” we have not yet turned the tide, largely because of foreign interference. The most deadly weapons and explosives, including the improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, enter Iraq from Iran. Ninety percent of the suicide bombers are foreigners; half of them are Saudi nationals; and the majority of these bombers enter Iraq through Syria. Nearly 90% of their victims are innocent Iraqi civilians. This cannot continue. We must persuade our neighbors to prevent terrorists and meddlers from using their territories as entry points into Iraq.
On the political and diplomatic fronts, we are also making steady progress. We have a government that requires consensus to make decisions. Unlike the dictatorial and authoritarian regimes of the past, our democracy cannot act quickly against the wishes of its constituents — something our supporters abroad should celebrate, not criticize.
Domestically, we have made major progress in establishing good governance throughout our provinces. Seven of the 18 are already in charge of their own security at the provincial level, with the Iraqi and coalition forces in support if, and only if, provincial authorities call for them in an emergency. This has happened only once among these seven provinces since they took over their own security responsibilities.
The Council of Ministers is moving forward on legislation where there is sufficient consensus for action. Areas in which this is well underway include petroleum, constitutional revision, provincial elections and the budget. The debate is untidy — perhaps as untidy as it often is in mature democracies. But the new system is working; we do not have a return of the “yes men.”
Although we have had some major successes, Iraq is economically weak following decades of exploitation by the previous regime and militarily weak following the collapse of the former military machine. We need the help of the entire international community, especially our neighbors, to permit us to grow strong enough to cope with our domestic problems and become a self-reliant and positive, peaceful member of the region and the world.
In terms of our information campaign, we are countering the prevalent misinformation of the terrorists while working to remain transparent to the responsible media, granting them access to everything, including our military operations.
On balance, we are making remarkable progress, even on the so-called benchmarks. But much of this talk of U.S. benchmarks is misleading. Their components are part of the government program established by the prime minister and the policy council on national security in 2006, and certainly not the invention of the U.S. Congress.
We can only progress together. We urge and expect our good friends and steady supporters, especially the United States, to continue to stand with us against the terrorists while we build the processes and improve the effectiveness of our new political system.