Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to talk to Brigadier General Terry Wolff, Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Policy Implementation at the NSC. I was the only blogger at yesterday’s bloggers’ call, so I had the privilege of actually conversing with General Wolff.
The Washington Post had an article earlier in the day describing in the gloomiest terms (“Violence in Iraq Still Falling, but Pace of Decline Slows”) the improvements in Iraqi security:
Significantly, the data show a continuation of the precipitous decline in blasts caused by improvised explosive devices that began early last summer. Those explosions now occur about 20 times a day throughout Iraq, down from about 60 in June and lower than at any point since September 2004.
Gen. Wolff started by describing how there’s progress in the political and diplomatic arenas in Iraq, in order to bring the U.S.-Iraq Declaration of Principles for Friendship and Cooperation to the fore. This would be a first step in getting Security Council approval of a resolution reestablishing a MNFI (Multi-National Force in Iraq), while it signals that the relations between Iraq and the US changing to that of nation-to-nation, and in the future will bring about strategic agreements like those we have with 100 other nations in the world. Accordingly, Iraq has been meeting with all their regional neighbors.
As it turns out, during our conversation, the UN Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq for one year.
From a security perspective the level of violence has been going down in nearly every category. 80% of Baghdad is secure, and while there remain a-Qaeda elements in Samarrah and Mosul, the Iraquis and our troops are disrupting enemy elements very effectively, for a number of reasons:
1. The surge forces,
2. The tribal sheiks, who have had enough of al-Qaeda. Each region plays out differently, but there is a trend towards a political movement demanding economic opportunity, which in turn brings about a bottoms-up effort towards political and economic opportunities.
I mentioned to Gen. Wolff that my main area of interest lies in economic and reconstruction.
There are many economic success stories: The Iraqis are using their $48billion budget and spending it to pay salaries, provide some social services and $10 billion is being used towards capital improvements. That amount will increase by $14 billion next year, and the Iraqis are starting a process to allocate that money.
There are 24 PRT teams working with civilians and the military. Initially Najaf didn’t want a PRT but now they see the value of their work.
The Iraqi government has passed a pensions bill, which recognized former and current government employees’ need for a safety umbrella.
Inflation is declining, since there is confidence in the economy, confidence in the dinar, the ability to pump oil has increased, and the oil production target for 2007 was met in October.
Non-oil GDP has risen by 7%, indicating a more diversified economy.
December 30 will see several changes:
A second reading of the 2008 budget in the Council,
The hydrocarbons law team will be back in January,
De-baathtification team proposals will get a second reading on December 30,
and there’s a provincials powers law leading to provincial elections in the works.
I asked Gen. Wolff about the Turkish incursions in Northen Iraq. He stated that there were 2 recent incursions – one with closed air support, and another limited incursion on hot pursuit – both against the PKK, which is an identified terrorist group. The Turkish government had asked for help identifying these elements. (see related article here).
How about troop morale? Troop morale is good, even when many forces were extended to 15 months, which inherently puts strain on the troops. The Army is being grown t create more brigades.
As for my question as to whether the situation in Iraq involves the situation in Afghanistan and viceversa, Gen. Wolff said there are many differences, starting with the fact that Afghanistan has a NATO-led force.
What would be the most supportive thing we could do here in the US?
The soldiers, the diplomats, and the subcontractors, all need to know that we in America support their effort. They need to know that their contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan are appreciated.
How about the funding? If Iraq is not funded properly there will be many issues, and a greater crisis because even the embassy won’t be funded properly.
After our conversation, later last night Senate passes budget bill with Iraq money
Special thanks to Gen. Wolff for our conversation, and thanks to him and to all men and women in the military for their service to our country.