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General Sees Progress in Western Iraq

22 July 2005

Multinational force advancing self-governance in Fallujah region

Washington -- A U.S. military commander who works in western Iraq reports slow but measurable progress in the security situation, and steady political advancements in an area that had seen considerable instability late last year, especially in Fallujah.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon July 22 via videoconference from Baghdad, Marine Major General Stephen Johnson said he sees progress in steps being taken toward self-governance and in the greater self-reliance demonstrated by Iraqi security forces.

There is evidence, Johnson said, that the people in the region are tiring of “the violence, the intimidation, the murder, and those things that are brought to them by the insurgents, and they want something better.”

Since the January 2005 elections, he said, there has been “considerable progress” in a region that includes the provinces of al-Anbar, Karbala and Najaf.  Religious, tribal and political leaders have called on “their followers to step up and vote” in the national referendum on the Iraqi constitution in October and for a permanent government in December.

Local grassroots support for the upcoming constitutional events has emerged, Johnson said, “and Iraqis are feeling more … empowered to take their place in this new nation.”

He also pointed to the existence of active, elected councils in three provinces.  Many of the key cities in the region, Johnson said, have elected mayors and councils with representatives “stepping forward and actively taking part in the reconstruction of their communities and the growth process.”

Johnson said he expects a good voting turnout in al-Anbar province, and he is working hard to ensure that voters will be able to cast their ballots safely.

“The fact that the folks in this province did not vote in January’s election is well known,” he said, “but I think that’ll change this time for a couple of reasons.”  The people realize now that it was probably a serious mistake not to get out the vote: “that the train left the station and they weren’t on it,” the officer said, “and they learned that that process is very important.”


Johnson said some 30,000 Azerbaijani, Bosnian and American coalition forces are in the region partnering and training some 10,000 Iraqi soldiers.  These new Iraqi soldiers have fought bravely and effectively, he said, “and they’ve bled for their own country.”

And, an emerging Iraqi police force is fanning out into various cities, Johnson said.

When asked about the situation along the Iraqi-Syrian border, Johnson said coalition forces are intensely involved in supporting Iraqi border guards in their effort to control a vast, 1,100-kilometer stretch of border. “We’re helping them … grow the force … and the facilities that they need to guard their border,” the officer added.

Once the Iraqi border guard is properly equipped, sufficiently trained, and has access to enough facilities, Johnson said “they will be able to make a difference in the amount of things that get smuggles across the border.”

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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