- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 31, 2007

The media seem to cover in intimate detail every al Qaeda and insurgent attack against U.S. and coalition forces and innocent Iraqi civilians. But average Americans are hard-pressed to find out what our approximately 150,000 combat troops and Iraqi forces accomplish day-to-day other than being targets.

It turns out our forces are making significant progress — although you would never know it to read the papers or watch TV news. While violence against coalition forces remains high, sectarian killings have been lower in Baghdad over the last several weeks than previously. This is due to a number of new initiatives. The Iraqi government has enacted new weapons and curfew restrictions. Gen. David Petraeus has instilled a new attitude. He leads from the front, intermingling with Iraqis, and in concert with them, taking back neighborhoods block-by-block from insurgents.

While this is slow, deliberate work, it is nonetheless succeeding. Two major car bomb factories on the outskirts of Baghdad have been destroyed. Hundreds of insurgents affiliated with violent extremist groups have been identified and detained. Weapons production facilities have been obliterated. Large weapon caches as well as chemical agents have been recovered.

Iraqi Security Forces are gaining strength. They are now fighting alongside coalition forces. They also are assuming a greater responsibility for combating the insurgency as reflected by the fact insurgent casualties are now higher than the coalition’s.

Even as coalition forces carry the fight to our adversaries, many community projects are being undertaken and completed. While these projects are not headline grabbers, they are essential in bringing stability to Iraq. Renovation and construction of 986 schools is complete, providing quality learning for more than 500,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Of the 1,897 megawatts of electricity planned, 1,420 megawatts have been added and restored, increasing capacity to serve 1.3 million households.

Reconstruction means jobs. The electrical undertaking is employing an average of 7,000 Iraqi citizens per week. In the oil industry, of the 3 million barrels per day of planned capacity, current production is at 2.6 million barrels. The oil industry is employing approximately 5,000 Iraqi citizens per week.

Water treatment has achieved 449,000 cubic meters per day, which services 2.4 million Iraqis. With 702,000 cubic meters of water treatment under construction an additional 2.9 million Iraqi people will be served.

Of 45 hospital renovation projects planned, 30 have been completed. The new Basra children’s cancer hospital (BCH) is 45 percent complete and will be fully operational by August 2008. There are only a few registered nurses there now but Project Hope, based in Millwood, Va., has established a training program for 250 Iraqi nurses in Jordan and Oman. To date, four classes have produced 92 new graduates. Nearly 40 percent of physicians selected to staff the BCH received clinical training updates.

There is progress on the political front as well. In February, Iraqi’s Council of Ministers approved a national hydrocarbon law that provides for an equitable distribution of oil reserves. This has been a key issue, and the law still must be approved by the Council of Representatives. But it is evidence of progress.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has affirmed there will be no political interference in security operations. Restrictions on Iraqi and coalition forces have been lifted, allowing them to go into target-rich insurgent areas such as Sadr City.

While the next regional conference on Iraqi security is still about a month away, we need ruthlessly to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and the insurgents. Our forces need to capitalize on their successes thus far. Moreover, responsibility for additional areas and provinces needs to be turned over to Iraqi forces as soon as they demonstrate they are ready. At the same time, pressure needs to be maintained on Iran and Syria. Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Qods) personnel need to be hunted down and either killed or captured. The security of the borders with Iran and Syria need reinforcement. The flow of IEDs from Iran needs to be shut down along with the further destruction of car bomb factories in Iraq.

Despite prior leadership mistakes in managing the conflict, our troops in Iraq, coalition partners and Iraqi security forces are showing they can get this job done. Congress must support our soldiers and Marines by giving them the wherewithal to carry the battle to the enemy. Don’t compel our troops to raise the white flag to al Qaeda and the insurgents because of political posturing and defeatist legislation. The bottom line can be summed up in four words: Progress is being made.

Now is the time for America and its allies to demonstrate true grit and drive on.

James A. Lyons Jr., U.S. Navy retired admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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