WASHINGTON -- Americans need to go back and evaluate the progress that has been made in Iraq, Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said today.
Di Rita spoke at a Pentagon news conference along with Marine Lt. Gen. James Conway, the Joint Staff operations chief.
Di Rita said it is important to remember the progress that has been made. Less than a year ago, the Coalition Provisional Authority still ran Iraq. It wasn't until the end of June that the CPA turned sovereignty over to the interim Iraqi government.
It wasn't until Jan. 30, 2005, that the citizens of Iraq chose their transitional government. "(Iraq) has had several major milestones of electoral actions," Di Rita said. "It'll have more going forward, and they're scheduled."
The Iraqi National Assembly is writing the new constitution. That effort is set to end by Aug. 15. A vote on the document is set not later than Oct. 15.
International efforts in Iraq remain strong, with around 30 countries helping in various capacities, and NATO has expanded its training mission in the nation, Di Rita said.
The coalition continues rebuilding the country. "We've probably expended or at least obligated to expend, I would say, something south of $10 billion and heading further," he said.
But the most notable difference is in Iraqi security forces. Earlier this week, Marine Gen. Peter Pace said that when CPA transferred sovereignty to the Iraqis, there was only one battalion that was effective. That number has risen to more than 100.
Conway said around 169,000 members of the Iraqi security forces are trained and equipped, and those units continue "to grow their operational capabilities."
The general said the Iraqi forces still have shortfalls - mostly in command and control and experience. "That doesn't happen overnight," Conway said. "We have a plan for growing the force. We're on track with projections of numbers. We're partnering our battalions with theirs, and our military transition teams are working with these units to enable them to operate independently."
And Iraqi troops are picking up real missions and handling them well, Conway said. Iraqi brigades have taken over patrolling in large areas of the country and right in downtown Baghdad. "Iraqi troops, along with U.S. transition team members, led the operation to free Australian hostage Doug Wood," Conway said. "Further, on Tuesday, Iraqi and coalition forces captured another one of al Qaeda's key leaders in northern Iraq, the so-called emir of Mosul, Abu Talha."
Conway said the Iraqi forces are "taking back their country from the insurgents."
Di Rita and Conway spoke about recent polls that show a drop-off of American support for operations in Iraq. "Obviously, the public support of these kinds of operations is critical," Di Rita said.
He said that Americans deployed to Iraq are showing a different side of American commitment. "The Americans who ... know the most about Iraq are our military," he said. "And in numbers we've probably not seen maybe in my lifetime, ... they're re-enlisting 200 percent of goal -- 150 percent of goal for units that have deployed to Iraq. So those individuals who are the most knowledgeable Americans of all think, 'Jeez, it's something worth doing.'"
Conway said it concerns him. He told the story of a Vietnamese colonel and a U.S. Marine colonel speaking after the war in Vietnam. "The Marine said, 'We beat you every time on the battlefield.' And the Vietnamese colonel said, 'That is true, but it's also irrelevant.'"
The general said the enemy realizes "that American public opinion is the center of gravity; that a democracy can't do certain things if, in fact, the citizens don't support it."
He said he would like to see a reversal in the trend. "It's extremely important to the soldier and the Marine, the airman and the sailor over there to know that their country's behind them," Conway said. "We didn't start this fight. So I don't know that it's our option to simply withdraw at this point."