Over the district work period, I traveled to Iraq to meet with our military leadership and our troops on the ground. I shared a meal with many of the great men and women of our Armed forces, visited a hospital in Balad and discussed our ongoing efforts with General George Casey, the commander of our forces in Iraq.
First and foremost, troop morale is high. Despite criticism from some people here at home, our troops are very proud of the work they are doing and they believe in their mission.
Progress is being made everyday. While violence remains a concern, significant milestones have been reached and we are now closer to accomplishing our goal of establishing a free and independent Iraq. The last time I was in Iraq, the Iraqi people were getting ready to finalize a constitution. A few months later it was adopted in what became one of two highly successful elections. Today, they stand on the verge of forming a unity government.
This past weekend, Iraq's governing body named a new prime minister, Jawad al-Malaki. It is now ultimately up to the Iraqi people to move their country forward in a direction that will provide freedom and economic opportunity. Our military leadership is sensitive to a potential dependency factor that could stifle Iraq's growth and independence. That is why we are focused on increasing the number of Iraq security forces from 250,000 to 325,000 by the end of this year.
As General Casey said, "this is the year of the police." He is convinced that Iraq can get an army and a police force in position to take over security operations. As that continues to happen, General Casey believes the America's footprint in Iraq will decrease significantly.
With a unity government and an increased Iraqi role in securing the country, Iraq remains headed in the right direction on the road to democracy. The road has been bumpy and long, but we can see light at the end of the tunnel. As we draw closer to our destination, we must continue to listen to our commanders on the ground and execute our strategy that will enable us to finish the job.