By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2010 - Iraq has made tremendous progress, but the country still needs American support, Vice President Joe Biden said in a commentary that ran in The New York Times this morning.
Biden is the Obama administration's point man for Iraq.
The vice president praised the Iraqis for forming an inclusive government in Baghdad and made the case that the United States must maintain support for the fledgling democracy.
"Since the elections there in March, our administration has said that the Iraqi people deserve a government that reflects the results of those elections, that includes all the major blocs representing Iraq's various communities and that does not exclude or marginalize anyone," Biden wrote. "That is what they will now have."
The Iraqis are using politics, not force, to work through the nation's issues. "It hasn't always been pretty, but politics rarely is, in Iraq, in America or anywhere else," the vice president said. "By agreeing to form a national partnership government, however, Iraqi leaders have sent an unmistakable message to their fellow citizens, their region and the world: after more than seven years of war and decades of dictatorship, Iraqis seek a nation where the rights of all citizens are recognized and the talents of all are harnessed to unlock the country's full potential."
Iraq, however, still faces enormous challenges, and the United States must continue its engagement with Iraq. That engagement will change from a military to a civilian lead.
About 50,000 American troops are in Iraq, down from a high of more than 166,000 in 2007. The troops who remain are in advise and assist brigades, and work to train the more than 650,000 members of the Iraqi army and police.
"Meanwhile, we are establishing a diplomatic presence throughout the country and, under the terms of our Strategic Framework Agreement, building a dynamic partnership across a range of government sectors, including education, energy, trade, health, culture, information technology, law enforcement and the judiciary," Biden said.
Iraq today is far safer and more stable than at any time since the outbreak of war in 2003, he said. In 2009, Iraqi forces took charge of security in major cities, and in August, they assumed primary security responsibility nationwide.
"In recent months, using their own intelligence, Iraqi forces have killed or captured dozens of senior leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq and other terrorist groups," the vice president said. "The weekly tally of violent incidents throughout Iraq has dropped to about 160, from nearly 1,600 in 2007."
But Iraqi forces are not yet ready to operate fully on their own, and the United States must continue its support.
The United States also must help the Iraqi government with civilian challenges including conducting a census, continuing to integrate Kurdish security forces, maintaining commitments to the Sons of Iraq, and resolving disputed internal boundaries and the future of the northern city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by both Arabs and Kurds.
The Iraqis still must pass a hydrocarbon law and stabilize the economy to encourage foreign investment.
"While the day will come when Iraq's vast natural wealth can fully finance its security and investment needs, and when its civilian institutions no longer require such intensive support, it has not yet arrived," Biden said. "Iraq has increased its own spending in these areas, and with sustained American engagement, it will emerge from generations of trauma to become a stable and self-reliant nation."
This hope is why the United States -- even as it faces economic troubles of its own -- still needs to fund important initiatives in Iraq. Biden is asking Congress to approve budget requests to support the broader diplomatic presence, modernization for Iraqi security forces and financing for a police development program.
"The drawdown of American troops will save $15 billion in the coming fiscal year -- we seek to direct less than one-third of that amount to provide needed assistance to Iraq's security forces and to our State Department's civilian-led efforts," he said.
"The Iraq war has cost our nation dearly, with the greatest price of all paid by the 4,430 heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice," the vice president said. "Now it is in America's fundamental interest to help preserve the gains Iraq has made, prevent the re-emergence of violent extremists and encourage Iraq to become a pivotal American ally in a strategically critical region, and a responsible regional actor in its own right."
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