Gibson: Iraqi police, security improving

As the U.S. prepares to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of this year, security in that count


As the U.S. prepares to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of this year, security in that country has gotten better and the country’s biggest problem is providing electricity to technology-hungry residents.

U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, visited the country last week in a congressional delegation and described a very different Iraq than the one he saw during four combat tours and a visit when he was a congressional fellow.

“The biggest challenge for the Iraqi government right now is providing for essential services, particularly electricity,” Gibson said during a conference call Monday before he flew back to Washington for budget talks this week. “The demand is up 100 percent. We anticipate that demand is going to continue to increase.”

Middle-class families lead the demand, he said.

“What you’re seeing is average middle-class Iraqi families have demands for satellite dishes; they have demands for air conditioners. They have demands for increased energy.”

Gibson said plans in Iraq to withdraw all but 150 U.S. troops by the end of the year are progressing, with fewer attacks reported now and the Iraqi police and armed forces gaining skills and authority.

And Iraqi police are becoming more effective and are more professional than they were in the past, he said.

“Now the police are accepted by local communities.”

The Iraqi army is progressing as well and is more competent than the last time Gibson was in Iraq.

“They are still challenged when it comes to supporting their forces in the field from a logistical standpoint,” he said. “Right now forces in the field still have some challenges when it comes to getting spare parts in the right place at the right time.”

Under President Barack Obama’s plan, just 150 troops would stay to work under the U.S. Embassy to advise authorities. There are now about 48,000 troops in Iraq, down from about 170,000 during the surge.

Gibson was one of five members of Congress who made the trip, which the House Armed Services Committee sponsored. They were gone from Feb. 20 to 27. After each day talking with commanders and local troops, the congressmen slept in the U.S. embassies in both countries. That’s an improvement over the last time Gibson went on a congressional delegation, when he was a military fellow in 2002-03 and flew to Jordan every night and back in the morning, he said.

Things are going more slowly in Afghanistan, where there’s still corruption in the Hamid Karzai-led government and the Taliban is expected to keep challenging the U.S. troops this year. “We need to continue to neutralize the Taliban,” Gibson said.

The December 2009 surge has improved security in the country, he said. “We have made significant strides in some of the former stronghold areas of the Taliban.”

The delegation was briefed by Gen. David Petraeus on the state of Afghanistan and division commanders, including Maj. Gen. James Terry from Fort Drum in Watertown.

The U.S. is stepping up counter-terrorism activities in a ring road that goes around Afghanistan.

Afghan soldiers are being trained to read and are learning trades they’ll use within the military.

“They’ve got a major emphasis on literacy,” Gibson said.

While work at the local government level in Afghanistan is going well, the federal government is a different story. There’s still corruption at the higher levels, including a recent Kabul Bank scandal.

“I think it’s illustrative of larger issues in the Karzai government,” Gibson said.

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