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Gazette Premium Content Carson soldiers impressed with progress in Iraq since last tour

TOM ROEDER Updated: November 21, 2010 at 12:00 am

The northern Iraqi real-estate market is taking off, Fort Carson soldiers say.

Police, rather than that nation’s military, are on the beat in most cities.

Oil refineries are back in business, worried more now about competing on the global market than insurgent attacks.

Iraq still is a dangerous place. Sporadic bombings make headlines and shake the confidence of the nation.

But for 800 Fort Carson soldiers overseeing American operations in the northern half of the country, Iraq is beginning to show the cohesion that has been missing in the eight years since the U.S. invasion.

“My doubts have been reassured,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey, a month into his fourth tour in Iraq. “There is a future for this country that looks very promising.”

To put things in perspective, Dailey, the top enlisted man in Fort Carson’s 4th Infantry Division, has seen some of the most intense combat the Iraq war has to offer, including the invasion and during the troop surge to reclaim Baghdad from insurgents.

There is still a daily dose of violence in Iraq, but the scale of the violence is tiny, Dailey says, compared to what he witnessed during three earlier tours.

The division’s headquarters left in October for Iraq, where its soldiers handle command decisions for three American brigades from other Army posts that are responsible for a wide swath of Iraq from Baqouba, north of Baghdad, to the Turkish border.

Another Fort Carson unit, the 3,800-soldier 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, is in southern Iraq, including the Persian Gulf port city of Basra.

The American mission is to reinforce the Iraqi government, so it won’t implode, as some predict, when U.S. forces pull out next year.

So far, there’s reason for optimism. While bombings and shootings in Iraq have targeted civilians in recent weeks, the Fort Carson units haven’t taken combat losses.

That’s because Iraqis, not Americans, are doing the fighting.

American soldiers are no longer front-line fighters in Iraq. Instead, they train their Iraqi counterparts and help them plan operations and gather intelligence to take out insurgents that threaten the nation’s stability.

“We spend a lot of our time in the advise, train and assist role with the Iraqi army,” said Fort Carson’s Maj. Gen. David Perkins, who is leading the American effort. “Our one division is partnered with five Iraqi divisions.”

Perkins said a priority for his troops is training Iraqi cops to take over security missions now covered by Iraqi soldiers.

Getting Iraqi police up to speed has proved a tough mission for U.S. forces since the war began. Under the Saddam Hussein regime, police were notoriously corrupt and more adept at silencing the dictator’s foes than quelling crime.

Now, the better-trained police are moving back into cities and rebuilding their reputation.

“The biggest thing are technical aspects,” said Perkins, noting that evidence gathering and preparing for Western-style criminal trials are top training goals.

Putting police who are able to handle local security on the streets frees up the Iraqi Army to get ready to defend their borders when U.S. forces depart at the close of 2011.

“We are trying to have Iraqi police forces responsible for security in the cities and have the Iraqi army responsible for external threats,” Perkins said.

Some of the soldiers under Perkins are playing a peacekeeper role.

He said a string of remote outposts manned by Americans, Iraqis and Kurdish troops is helping make sure that separatist battles don’t ignite.

Even soldiers at the austere outposts get three hot meals per day. On larger bases, amenities have improved since the division headquarters was last in Iraq two years ago.

“One of the benefits of drawdown is we have lots of space,” said Dailey.

Dailey said all soldiers in the division’s area have the ability to call or e-mail home.

Division leaders are readying to haul turkey dinners to soldiers in remote sites next week.

Living conditions are looking up for Iraqis, too.

During years of war, the Iraqi economy slumped. Markets stayed closed and streets were empty amid insurgent threats. In some parts of Iraq, unemployment topped 70 percent.

Now, Dailey and Perkins said, cities have started to come back to life.

“Just flying around you see a lot of houses being built and the civilian markets are thriving,” Dailey said. “People are out on the streets the roads are filled with cars.”

And the rebuilding, in a major change, is being planned and financed by Iraqis and their government.

“We are not in the brick and mortar business anymore,” Perkins said. “It is all Iraqi  now.”

Call the writer: 636-0240

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