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Pentagon Welcomes Iraqi Political Progress



24 April 2006

The U.S. Defense Department has welcomed the progress toward forming a new Iraqi government, saying it should contribute to the effort to establish security in the country.

Spokesman Bryan Whitman called Saturday's Iraqi parliament vote approving the prime minister and other top officials of the new government a "very important milestone" toward convincing the Iraqi people that their future lies with the democratically elected government, not with the insurgents.

"Obviously, that's going to provide a strong foundation for progress in Iraq," said Bryan Whitman. "You've heard our military commanders talk about the importance of the political process moving forward to give the Iraqi people confidence in the government. But it's also, I think, important to remember that each time there has been a political process, it's been an opportunity for the anti-Iraqi forces to incite violence. And I've seen some of that today. And I think there's no doubt that violence will continue in an attempt to derail democracy in Iraq."

U.S. military commanders, and senior defense officials, have said that the four-month delay in forming the new Iraqi government contributed to the continuing violence in the country by adding to the support for the insurgents and making it difficult for local governments to establish their authority.

Still, Whitman says the new Iraqi security forces have continued to make progress. As evidence of that, he says a 2,500-member Iraqi army brigade took control of nearly 29,000 square kilometers of Najaf Province on Monday. Iraqi forces now have primary responsibility for security in nearly all of that province, south of Baghdad. And according to a map Whitman provided, the Iraqis have responsibility for about one third of the country, including part of the capital. That is a sharp increase from six months ago, when Iraqi forces controlled only a few small areas.

Whitman says handing over responsibility to Iraqi forces enables coalition troops in those areas to move into a supporting role.

"This is, you know, again Iraqis in the lead now providing for the safety and security of Iraq," he said. "And this brigade has demonstrated that they are fully capable of taking over those responsibilities from coalition forces."

The spokesman did not say whether the increased responsibility given to Iraqi forces will result in a reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. Top U.S. generals are expected to make recommendations for possible troop reductions within the next couple of months. Officials say the development of the Iraqi forces and progress toward establishing the new government, particularly the leadership of the ministries of defense and interior, will play important roles in that decision.



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