Twenty months ago, when General David H. Petraeus assumed command in Iraq, sectarian violence in the country was spiraling out of control. Insurgents were killing nearly 3,000 civilians per month and our troops were sustaining over 1,200 attacks each week. As General Petraeus transitioned to other responsibilities this month, he left a far different and much improved situation for our troops and our nation, and he provided an important lesson in leadership and resolve.
In an effort to stabilize Iraq, General Petraeus requested a new strategy, one that called for an increase in the number of troops on the ground in Iraq. President Bush and Defense Secretary Gates agreed, and the difficult decision was then made to implement the “surge” of troops in Iraq. This decision, coupled with the day-to-day leadership of General Petraeus and the remarkable efforts of the troops under his command, have provided the level of stability and progress we’re now seeing in Iraq.
TRANSFORMING ANBAR PROVINCE
After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Anbar Province, which is in the western region of Iraq, was long considered the heart of the Iraqi insurgency. With more than 1,100 American Troops having lost their lives in the region, Anbar was the most violent province in Iraq, and its instability threatened the security of the entire country. As a result, General Petraeus sent 4,000 additional Marines to Anbar to assist the local citizens in stabilizing the region.
Today, we are seeing the dividends of that decision. Anbar is a safer province for the people of Iraq, as local markets are reopening and social life is returning to normal. There are now 24,000 Iraqi police on the rolls and the number of police recruits exceeds the available training slots. Most importantly, last month we transferred the province – an area that was once described as unwinnable – back to Iraqi control. This success is symbolic of the remarkable turnaround we witnessed in Iraq under General Petraeus’ command.
General Petraeus’ strategy has clearly worked. Violence in Iraq is at its lowest point since the spring of 2004. In July, 13 U.S. Troops were killed in Iraq, which is the lowest in any month since the war began. The reduced violence and continued progress of the Iraqi government has led President Bush to order 8,000 troops home by February 2009.
General Petraeus deserves a great deal of credit for turning Iraq around, but none of the progress would have been possible without the sacrifice of our troops who served under him. In recognition of their historic efforts, General Petraeus sent a letter earlier this month to our troops in Iraq, saying: “You have not just secured the Iraqi people, you have served them, as well. … Indeed, you have been builders and diplomats as well as guardians and warriors.” The general went on to tell our troops that their accomplishments have “been the stuff of history.”
SERVICE TO COUNTRY
President Bush recently said it in simple terms: “General David Petraeus was asked to do a very difficult job and he did it with distinction and honor.” When General Petraeus began his mission in Iraq, he faced a determined, adaptable, and barbaric enemy that wanted to create a safe haven for future terrorist activity. Through his efforts and those of the soldiers who served under him, Iraq is now more secure. General Petraeus has done a great deal for our nation and our troops in Iraq, and I am grateful for his service to our country.