Constitution Delay Will Not Affect Operations, Casey Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 17, 2005 No operational effects are expected from the delay in writing the Iraqi constitution, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq said today.
In an interview here, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said the fact that the Iraqis themselves delayed unveiling the constitution shows "they figured it out."
On Aug. 15, the original target date for a draft constitution, the Iraqi National Assembly unanimously agreed to extend the deadline until Aug. 22. "They figured out they needed time to get it done better than they had it," Casey said. "And I think that's a great thing."
Democracy is messy, the general said, noting that 12 years elapsed between the Declaration of Independence and ratification of the U.S. Constitution. But the Iraqis suffered through 35 years of despotic rule, and they are determined to get it right, Casey said.
"We really can't appreciate the commitment they have to something better," he said. He said that infighting and mistrust are to be expected in the wake of Saddam Hussein's rule, "but the different groups, they're working through it, they are dealing with it, and in the long run this will be a better place for it."
Casey said he has not yet asked for more American troops for Iraq's October or December elections. "We always have the possibility of bringing over some additional troops," he said. "We're looking at that. I haven't asked for anything yet. But that certainly is a possibility."
During the Jan. 30 election, American forces beefed up by adding troops and holding troops already in the country. But Casey said there is a crucial difference as the October and December elections near. "This year we will have around 100,000 more Iraqi troops than we did (Jan. 30)," he noted. Iraqi security forces will number about 230,000 when Iraqis go to the polls in December to elect a permanent government under the country's new constitution, he said.
Training the Iraqi security forces is going well, the general said. The partnership effort between coalition forces and the fledgling Iraqi divisions is paying off. "Watching the example of what disciplined, professional soldiers do and how they operate does so much to bring the levels of professionalism of the Iraqi forces up," he said.
Officials here say the companies and battalions are doing well, as the Iraqi soldiers of the 1st Brigade, 6th Division, which patrols large parts of Baghdad, have improved significantly in basic infantry skills and command and control of small units over the last six months.
Brigades and divisions - and Iraq's defense ministry itself - are a much more complex problem, Casey said, and will take longer to get where they need to be. "They are coming along even at those levels," he said. "I think by the middle of next year, most of the brigades probably ought to be in pretty good shape, and probably by the end of next year, most of the divisions."
The Iraqi divisions are established now and commanders are in place, but the commanders have administrative, not operational, control. The divisions serve to pay, replace, and help train the Iraqi soldiers, not to plan and execute operations. A new reporting process allows Casey to know "in painstaking detail what their needs are, and some have a lot," the general said.
Officials said 38 Iraqi battalions are able to conduct and lead counterinsurgency operations - what the military calls being at Readiness Level 2. Coalition forces help with logistics, close air support and the like, but these units are in the lead and plan and execute their own operations.
Most Iraqi units are at Readiness Level 3, meaning they are in the fight but still depend on coalition units for conducting and executing operations. "Less than a handful," Casey said, are at Readiness Level 1 - totally independent of coalition forces.
"You don't build an army overnight," the general said. "They're not going to be independent for a while. But we purposely set it up that way so we could get them into the lead in operating independently sooner, so they will learn faster."
And as the Iraqi forces take over security, he explained, there will be less need for American forces. "The important thing is that everything we are doing is tied to building capability of the Iraqi security forces," Casey said. "There is not a reduction plan. There is a plan to transfer the security responsibility to capable Iraqi security forces. As they take over, we're not going to need as many forces."
Casey said he is encouraged by the signs in Iraq. "The two things that we have to do the best in are the political process and building Iraqi security forces," he said. "And those are the two things that are going the best."