Skip to comments.Political Progress in Iraq: February 2008 Update
Posted on 02/15/2008 8:43:27 PM PST by LSUfan
Though we still have a long ways to go, the security situation in Iraq continues to improve by leaps and bounds. As it does, progress on the political and economic fronts continues to gather momentum. This update sheds some light on these developments, including three recent milestones of political reconciliation -- an amnesty law, the 2008 budget, and the provincial powers law. In addition, attached is a White House bulletin highlighting these legislative milestones.
National Political Reconciliation. Iraqis Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds continue reaching out to each other and throughout the country, Americans continue to serve as a bridge for reconciliation.
· Recent Legislative Milestones. After passing three pieces of legislation (amnesty for Sunnis, the 2008 budget, and a provincial powers law) the speaker of parliament said, We have proved that Iraqis are one bloc and Parliament is able to find solutions that represent all Iraqis.
o Amnesty for Sunni security detainees. The amnesty law, which was passed by the Shiite majority parliament, helps remove one of the greatest stumbling blocks to reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites. Thousands of Sunni detainees are being held for months or years without a preliminary hearing, with no evidence, in facilities controlled by the Shiite-dominated Ministry of Interior. As a result Sunnis in Anbar fear traveling to Baghdad, and the Tawafuq bloc pulled its six ministers out of the government in summer 2007 in protest. A large-scale amnesty would be greeted with jubilation by Iraqs Sunnis.
§ Nearly 200 Justice Department employees in Iraq have been joined by hundreds of new Iraqi judges and other personnel to help process the backlog of Sunni detainees and implement the amnesty.
o Budget law. The Sunnis and Shiites compromised on the 2008 budget, allowing the Kurds a larger share (17%) of the budget than most representatives thought was fair. Iraqs oil revenues have soared with the rise in global prices and the rise in Iraqs own production resulting from increased security. Now that money is going to the provinces on a regular basis, where it will fund urgently needed reconstruction and humanitarian relief. Finally, the government is providing the kinds of services that give the people a stake in its success. At nearly $50 billion, the 2008 budget could add as many as 700,000 new jobs.
o Provincial powers. This bill defines the powers and responsibilities of the provincial governments versus those of the central government. GEN Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker called this bill a historic compromise:
§ After many months of careful preparation, negotiation and debate, the Provincial Powers Law represents an important step toward framing the balance the Iraqi people seek between central government authority and the strengthening of local governments.Joint Statement, MNF-I and U.S. Embassy Baghdad
o In a front-page article the New York Times reported: More than any previous legislation, the new initiatives have the potential to spur reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites and set the country on the road to a more representative government, starting with new provincial elections.
o Benchmark legislation already passed:
§ De-Baathification Reform
§ Pensions Amendment
o Benchmark Legislation on the horizon:
§ Hydrocarbons law The level of control allocated to the central government is the key point of disagreement, which the budget law may ease; and the government is already distributing revenues on a per-capita basis.
§ Elections law The prime ministers office is drafting this law. According to the recently-passed provincial powers law, the various elections must take place by October 1, 2008.
· New Iraqi national lag. After his defeat in the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein altered the Iraqi flag by inserting God is Great in the style of his hand-writing. In the years after the liberation of Iraq, the Kurds stopped flying the Iraqi flag over government buildings in the Kurdish region, and started flying their own flag instead. (Many observers in and out of Iraq -- took this as an ill omen). The parliament recently approved a new provisional flag that eliminates the three prominent stars, symbols of the Baath Party, and replaces Saddams handwriting style with standard Kufi Arabic script. Representatives of the Kurdish Regional Government said they were pleased by the change. At the flag-raising ceremony on February 5, Prime Minister Maliki noted, It erases the impact of the past.
· Concerned local citizens joining the Iraqi security forces. The Anbar Awakening, which has now spread to several other provinces, resulted in a massive wave of mainly Sunni tribes-members forming neighborhood watches and checkpoints, usually organized with American assistance. Nearly 72,000 are now on the rolls; 60,000 of them are paid. Thousands of them are now being vetted and hired by the central government into the Iraqi security forces. And plans are being rapidly developed to assimilate thousands more. This removes another major stumbling block to Sunni-Shiite reconciliation.
· Other signs of reconciliation.
o 2 million Shiite pilgrims attended the Ashura celebrations in the Holy City of Karbala last month without a single violent incident. The twin holy cities of Karbala and Najaf are now prospering once again due to the influx of wealthy Gulf Arab Shiites to their shrines, according the Najafs governor Asaad Abukalal.
o Anbar Province once the heart of the insurgency will be transferred to Iraqi security control in March, bringing to 10 (of 18) the provinces under full Iraqi control. All of Iraqs provinces could be under Iraqi security control by the end of the year.
There has also been significant economic progress. Oil production in Iraq has risen nearly 50% over what it was a year ago. Oil revenues are double what they were a year ago. Inflation has fallen from 66% to less than 5% in just one year. Because of increased economic and reconstruction activity, electricity demand is up more than 25% in the last year. Part of the reason is the 21 new health clinics in Baghdad; 1,885 new schools; and 1,604 refurbished schools throughout Iraq.
Violence is at lowest levels since before the insurgency began. The civil war is over, and security is starting to pervade most of Iraq. Children can be seen playing in all of Iraqs neighborhoods; shops and restaurants are open; even nightlife is reportedly returning to Baghdad. This is the result of a combination of factors, including the surge in American troops and the surge in Iraqi Security Forces, which have grown to 440,000 trained and equipped. These numbers permitted implementation of the Petraeus strategy of providing security throughout Iraqs neighborhoods, which has dramatically increased the Iraqi peoples confidence in coalition and local security forces.
· New outpost in Mosul. Al Qaeda has been driven from most of Iraq and has concentrated increasingly along the upper Tigris and especially around the northern city of Mosul. In response, the Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. Army are setting the model for the next phase of counter-terrorism operations in Iraq. They have built a large combat-outpost meant to house a large unit of Iraqi Security Forces and a small unit of U.S. forces. Significant combat operations are planned for the area of Mosul until early summer.
· Iraqi Brigades Moving Throughout Iraq. An Iraqi Army brigade recently deployed itself (i.e., with little American assistance) from Anbar to Diyala province for operations against Al Qaeda.
· Iraqi-American Military Partnership. By working side-by-side with Iraqi soldiers, Americans soldiers have won their trust and friendship for the future. The influence of American military culture is increasingly evident in the professionalism, discipline, competence and pride of Iraqi army soldiers. Gone are the rigidity and the abuses of the Saddam-era military. Both the army and police of Iraq increasingly look to the respect of the people (rather than their fear) as a source of authority. It is a pro-American military, and it will be for a long-time.
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