Iraqi Security Forces Leading Operations in More Areas
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 23, 2006 Coalition leaders are working to transfer security responsibility to Iraqis as soon as possible, but they recognize the dangers of "rushing to failure," a senior military official told Pentagon reporters today.
Army Brig. Gen. Carter F. Ham, deputy director of regional operations for the Joint Staff, called the seating of Iraq's new government and its building a force of more than 263,000 security forces major milestones for Iraq.
"There's still a lot to be done in Iraq, and we shouldn't kid ourselves about that," he said. "But I think that every now and then it's important to realize that much has already been accomplished," he said.
Ham showed reporters charts that graphically demonstrate progress Iraq's security forces have made in the past seven months. Green coloring shows areas where two Iraqi divisions, 14 brigades and more than 50 Iraqi army battalions are operating in the lead in various areas throughout the country.
"Now, we want it all to be green," Ham said. "The Iraqis want it all to be green. And only those who are opposed to freedom and elected representative government want it to be otherwise."
Transitions to Iraqi control will occur as Iraqis become capable of exercising security control. "Those decisions are made in collaboration with the Iraqi government, Iraqi security force leaders, and the U.S. and other coalition members that are present in those areas," Ham said. "We want to do it as soon as we can, but you can't do it too fast."
U.S. soldiers and Marines remain in control in Ramadi, which Ham called "probably the most contentious city right now inside Iraq."
The enemy they face appears to be a mix of al Qaeda in Iraq elements trying to establish a safe haven and Sunni Arabs trying to keep it as a stronghold. The challenge is to protect Iraqis who live there while helping Iraqi security forces establish authority, Ham said.
"The key, in my mind, will not be so much how many or how few U.S. forces are there, but how can we best help the Iraqis to establish control of their city?" Ham said. "And I know the commanders there are working very hard with the Iraqi ministries of defense and interior to get the right Iraqi forces on the ground in Ramadi to help a very, very difficult situation."