WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 31, 2007) - A U.S. general serving with Multinational Force Iraq recently took time out of his mid-deployment leave to let the American public know that the situation in Iraq is different from what they might think.
Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson, deputy chief of staff for resources and sustainment, spoke yesterday with representatives of veterans service organizations, outlining a speech he gave earlier at James Madison University about what he believes are 10 myths about the conflict in Iraq.
"There are some signs that our new strategy is working," Brig. Gen. Anderson said in a teleconference from Baghdad. "It's going to be a long, hot summer, and it won't be really until the end of it that we'll be able to evaluate it. There is plenty of opportunity, and plenty of reason to be cautiously optimistic about what's going on over there."
The 10 myths, as outlined by Brig. Gen. Anderson, are:
Aca,!Ac The war in Iraq is about oil;
Aca,!Ac The U.S. is fighting alone in Iraq;
Aca,!Ac Iraq is engulfed in a full-scale civil war;
Aca,!Ac The Iraqis were better off under Saddam Hussein than under the new government;
Aca,!Ac The Iraqi government is ineffective;
Aca,!Ac Economic development is non-existent in Iraq;
Aca,!Ac Contractors cost the U.S. government too much money;
Aca,!Ac U.S. troops aren't properly equipped;
Aca,!Ac Morale is low among U.S. troops; and
Aca,!Ac The U.S. has lost in Iraq.
None of these myths are true, Brig. Gen. Anderson said, and the situation in Iraq is much better than is often reported here.
The war in Iraq is essentially a fight against religious extremists, Brig. Gen. Anderson said. And while oil is an important element in the situation, it is not the key element. "It is essentially about freedom and peace and democracy, in my opinion," he said.
The United States is not alone in the fight, Brig. Gen. Anderson said. About 32 countries are contributing troops to the fight in Iraq, and about 40 countries are providing contractors and logistics support.
"It's truly a coalition of many nations, and all of them are committed equally to helping the Iraqis build their security forces and counter violence and empower the Iraqis to eventually take control and secure their nation," he said.
While violence levels in Iraq still are unacceptable, the situation is not a full-scale civil war, Brig. Gen. Anderson said. The fight involves religious extremists on the fringe and does not involve large-scale force-on-force combat, he pointed out.
The existence in Iraq of free speech, a free press and a democratically elected government are all signs that the Iraqi people are better off now than they were under Saddam, Brig. Gen. Anderson said. In addition, major improvements in the country's infrastructure have improved the people's quality of life, he said. Sewer, water, trash and electricity services all are improving, and the coalition has built almost 1,000 schools, renovated 97 railway stations, built 51 primary health-care centers and renovated 32 hospitals.
The Iraqi government does have room for improvement, but it is still a young democracy and it has made significant progress since its inception, Brig. Gen. Anderson said. Four of Iraq's 18 provinces are now completely under provincial-government control for security, and their ability to provide services to the people is improving.
"Do they need to get better' Absolutely," he said. "But are there signs that they are getting better' Absolutely."
The signs of economic progress in Iraq are very encouraging, Brig. Gen. Anderson said. The Iraqi economy has cut inflation in half; the gross domestic product increased 40 percent in 2006 and is projected to grow more in 2007; the per capita income has doubled; and the economy is getting foreign investments. The United States is working with the government to reduce corruption in the economy, improve oil exports and revitalize Iraqi businesses, he said.
"One need only to go to a place like Irbil, up north in Kurdistan, to see (what's) possible - an Iraqi city that is vibrant, has high employment and a flourishing economy," Brig. Gen. Anderson said. "It's almost like walking down the streets of a typical European city, with restaurants and shops and car dealerships. It's a thriving place, and I believe that is a demonstration of what is possible hopefully in the very, very near term."
Contractors are valuable contributors to the coalition mission in Iraq and have actually increased their services while reducing costs over the years, Brig. Gen. Anderson said. In addition, contractors, many of whom are from countries besides the U.S., risk their lives every day alongside coalition troops, he said. "I believe that they are patriots in every sense of the word," he said of the contractors who serve in Iraq.
Although the enemy is adaptive and constantly changes tactics to defeat U.S. defenses, U.S. troops are extremely well outfitted and receive the latest technologies to protect them, Brig. Gen. Anderson said. Body armor is provided to every troop who deploys, and vehicle armor is constantly upgraded as technologies become available, he said. In addition, Iraqi troops are becoming increasingly well equipped. They have armored vehicles, mortars, helicopters and aircraft, and the government is spending $7 billion this year to improve their equipment, he said.
Retention rates among deployed troops prove that morale is high, Brig. Gen. Anderson said. The troops know that many Americans don't support the war, but they continue to see the outpouring of support for those who fight, he said.
"This new generation of kids is unbelievable, and I think they are representing Americans extremely well," he said. "They're disciplined and compassionate; they don't pull the trigger indiscriminately; and they go truly overboard to protect citizens and respect Islamic culture."
The new operational strategy for Iraq is still in the initial stages, but there are encouraging signs already, Brig. Gen. Anderson said. Coalition and Iraqi forces will, for the first time, have enough troops to secure areas of Baghdad after clearing them of insurgents. More soldiers in an area does mean more opportunities for conflict with the enemy, so leaders expect the situation will get worse before it gets better, but they believe the new strategy can work, he said.
"We understand that the military cannot win the war (on its own), but we're certainly not losing it," he said. "We can only help set the conditions for a political solution; we understand that.
"We must continue to apply all of our political, military and diplomatic, economic and informational power to this fight," he continued. "We understand that this is the defining international event of our time. We absolutely understand that we must win this struggle and that we must prevail, and I'm optimistic that the opportunity still exists in order to do that."
(Sgt. Sara Wood writes for the American Forces Press Service.)