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Iraqi Security Forces Move Toward Independence, General Says

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2006 – The past year showed a significant increase in the number of trained and equipped Iraqi security forces and in the capability of these forces to conduct independent operations, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said today.

A year ago, there were 127,000 trained and equipped members of the Iraqi security forces. Today there are more than 227,000, which reflects a 78 percent increase, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, said at a news conference.

These Iraqi forces are becoming more capable and are taking the lead in operations, Lynch said. One Iraqi army division, eight brigades and 37 battalions lead operations in their areas, he said. This is compared to four brigades and 11 battalions leading operations in June 2005, he explained.

Based on current projections, 75 percent of Iraqi army brigades will take the lead in operations by this summer. And by the fall, 80 percent of Iraqi divisions will be in the lead in their areas, Lynch said.

Some Iraqi units are already conducting independent operations without coalition support, Lynch said. In December 2005, Iraqi forces conducted 550 independent operations throughout Iraq, and work is being done to make more Iraqi units as capable, Lynch said.

"We're making progress with the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government in the growth of those forces, which are so important for the end state -- security forces that can maintain domestic order and deny Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists," he said.

American servicemembers working with the Iraqi security forces continue to applaud their efforts and capabilities, Lynch said.

"They have reached the point where their preference in conducting operations is to conduct operations side by side with their Iraqi security force colleagues," he said of U.S. troops in Iraq.

A major advantage of working alongside Iraqi security forces is their distinct capability in gathering intelligence from locals, Lynch said. The Iraqi people have lost patience with terrorists and are increasingly turning to Iraqi security force members to disclose information about weapons caches and insurgent locations, he said.

Recent incidences in Ramadi of locals taking action against terrorists are another sign that Iraqis are tired of terrorists' violence, Lynch said.

"The people of Iraq are saying, 'We're not going to accept terrorists in our midst,' because they realize that the terrorists and foreign fighters have no appreciation for the lives of the people of Iraq," he said.

Attacks in Iraq are down 40 percent this week, but that doesn't mean terrorists aren't still ready and capable to strike, Lynch said. He said he expects a surge in violence around the time election results are released.

Despite the threat of violence, all indicators show an Iraq that has made significant progress and has much hope for the future, Lynch said.

"We talk all the time about the end state," he said. "It's an Iraq that's at peace with its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a representative government that respects the human rights of all Iraqis, that has a security force that can maintain domestic order and deny Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists. We're making progress towards that end."

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