In his New Year's letter to the troops General David Petraeus announced that force redeployments have begun. So far, one Army brigade combat team and one Marine Expeditionary Unit have redeployed without replacement, with four additional brigades and two Marine battalions to follow in the coming months.
This has been made possible by the success of those troops and their Iraqi and coalition partners in improving the level of security in Iraq.
While the progress in a number of areas is fragile, the security improvements have significantly changed the situation in many parts of Iraq. It is now imperative that we take advantage of these improvements by looking beyond the security arena and helping Iraqi military and political leaders as they develop solutions in other areas as well, solutions they can sustain over time. At the tactical level, this means an increasing focus on helping not just Iraqi Security Forces--with whom we must partner in all that we do--but also helping Iraqi governmental organizations as they endeavor to restore basic services, to create employment opportunities, to revitalize local markets, to refurbish schools, to spur local economic activity, and to keep locals involved in contributing to local security. We will have to do all of this, of course, while continuing to draw down our forces, thinning our presence, and gradually handing over responsibilities to our Iraqi partners. Meanwhile, at the national level, we will focus on helping the Iraqi Government integrate local volunteers into the Iraqi Security Forces and other employment, develop greater ministerial capacity and capability, aid displaced persons as they return, and, most importantly, take the all-important political and economic actions needed to exploit the opportunity provided by the gains in the security arena.
The pace of progress on important political actions to this point has been slower than Iraqi leaders had hoped. Still, there have been some important steps taken in recent months. Iraq's leaders reached agreement on the Declaration of Principles for Friendship and Cooperation with the United States, which lays the groundwork for an enduring relationship between our nations. The United Nations Security Council approved Iraq's request for a final renewal of the resolution that authorizes the Coalition to operate in Iraq. Iraq's leaders passed an important Pension Law that not only extends retirement benefits to Iraqis previously left out but also represents the first of what we hope will be additional measures fostering national reconciliation. And Iraq's leaders have debated at length a second reconciliation-related measure, the Accountability and Justice Bill (the de-Ba'athification Reform Law), as well as the 2008 National Budget, both which likely will be brought up for a vote in early 2008. Even so, all Iraqi participants recognize that much more must be done politically to put their country on an irreversible trajectory to national reconciliation and sustainable economic development. We will, needless to say, work closely with our Embassy teammates to support the Iraq Government as it strives to take advantage of the improved security environment by pursing political and economic progress.
In the 1972 election George McGovern's campaign demanded that troops be brought home from Vietnam. All the while President Richard Nixon was steadily bringing the troops home from Vietnam. Massachusetts was the only state that went for McGovern. Today's Democratic contenders similarly demand that the troops be pulled out of Iraq -- as the troops begin to be pulled out of Iraq.