(CNSNews.com) - Political progress continued to gain momentum in Iraq this month with the U.S. military transferring authority to local officials in the Wasit and Babil Provinces.
Wasit was transferred on Wednesday and Babil was transferred on October 23.
That means 13 out of 18 provinces, two-thirds of the country, have been turned over to local authorities.
Babil includes the Sunni belt once known as the “triangle of death.” Wasit is mostly Shite and borders Iran. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army was active in the province before Iraqi forces moved against him earlier this year with support from the U.S.
“Primary security responsibility for the Wasit province was returned to Iraqi civilian authorities,” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said on Wednesday. “It is southeast of Baghdad.”
Thirteen of 18 provinces have now taken the lead for security in Iraq, she continued. “It is the second Iraqi province to transfer security responsibility in the last two weeks. So now more than two-thirds of Iraq is under provincial Iraqi control.”
Some congressional critics of the Bush administration claim that even as the U.S. military has succeeded in expelling al Qaeda, the Iraqi government has not fulfilled its obligations. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made this point in response to a question from CNSNews.com earlier this year.
“The purpose of the surge,” which started in January 2007, “was to create a secure period of time so the government of Iraq would have political room to take actions that would bring [political] reconciliation to Iraq,” Pelosi told CNSNews.com at a press conference.
“Since the surge began, 1,100 of our troops have died,” she said. “They told us it would take 60 to 90 days to do it all. It’s a year and a half, and it still hasn’t happened.” (See related story)
In his opening statement, read just prior to the testimony of Army General David Petraeus on Capitol Hill in September 2007, Sen. Joseph Biden, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, also dismissed the strategy.
“It's time to turn the corner in my view, gentlemen,” Biden said. “We should stop the surge and start bringing our troops home. We should end a political strategy in Iraq that cannot succeed and begin one that can.”
However, a group of combat veterans who strongly support the mission in Iraq disagree with congressional figures who claim military success has not translated into political progress.
“This has been the fallback position for those who did not support the pursuit of victory in Iraq,” Captain Pete Hegseth, chairman of Vets for Freedom (VFF), said in an interview. “They are on the record as saying that this [the surge] would not work and now that it has they continue to back peddle and say that there has been no political progress when it is no longer plausible to say so.”
Hegseth served with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq in 2005 and part of 2006 in Samarra, a city in Iraq’s Salahuddin Province.
The transfer of authority in the Anbar Province back in September was particularly significant because it was once the capital of the Sunni Insurgency, he observed. Political gains stand a stronger chance of being solidified now the Sunnis have joined with the Shite government of Nuri al-Maliki, he added.
Back in June Maliki announced a joint decision between his government and the Multi-National Force (MNF) to systematically hand over security responsibilities in Iraq’s 18 Provinces to the provincial civil authorities under control of the governor in each province.
In a ceremony on July 13, 2006, Muthanna became the first province in Iraq identified as having the capability to govern and protect itself as a sovereign and democratic nation.
Since then provincial control has transferred to the Iraqi government in the following provinces; Dhi Qar in September 2006, An Najaf in December 2006, Maysan in April 2007, the Kurdish Region provinces of Irbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Dahuk in May 2007, Karbala in October 2007, Basrah in December 2007, Qadisiyah in July 2008 and Anbar in September 2008.