General Cites Continued Improvement in Iraqi Security Forces
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2005 Improvements in the Iraqi security situation since 2004 are amazing, a senior military official serving in Iraq said, noting the increase in number and proficiency of the security forces.
Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, said he's particularly impressed with Iraqi security forces' recent progress at the tactical level, including individual Iraqi soldiers, small units, training and equipping, basing, infrastructure. Dempsey had previously served in Iraq as commander of 1st Armored Division, so he has witnessed much of this progress first-hand.
"If we can match that progress in the next year, then I think we're going to be well on our way to having these security forces and the institutions that support them be something we'll be pretty proud of," he said in an Oct. 27 Pentagon Channel interview.
The progress he has seen includes more than 200,000 Iraqi security force members being trained and equipped. That milestone is significant not only for the sheer number, he said, but also for the proficiency of those forces.
During his first tour in Iraq, Dempsey said, the goal was to put an Iraqi face on security. Now the talk is of Iraqi solutions to security issues. The recent transfer of the security of four Baghdad districts from coalition forces to Iraqi security forces is evidence of those solutions put into action, he said.
"It means that Iraqis see themselves as increasingly in control of their future and their own security," he said. "(Baghdad) is the national capital; it is the center of gravity. So it seems to me that is sends a pretty strong message, both to the enemy and to the Iraqi people, that the Iraqi security forces are regaining control of the country."
Making this progress permanent requires three things to happen, he said. The first is keeping the political process moving. The successful Oct. 15 constitutional referendum and planned December elections go a long way toward that goal. Systems also have to be in place to support the existing security structure, including ensuring the pay, medical care and other benefits of security force members.
To date, only moderate progress has been made in establishing these systems. The series of interim governments may have contributed to the delay in developing these systems, Dempsey said. With a permanent government in place, the support systems will have a chance to take hold, he added.
"The third, and most important, thing is they have to have confidence in their leaders," he said. "In order for all this work we've done together to stick, it's got to have the glue that leadership provides."
To that end, Dempsey's command is identifying and grooming the next generation of Iraqi leaders, he said. The two ministries that will eventually lead the security forces and the supporting civil service, Defense and Interior, are working with the transition command to get the big picture.
"We own the process from foot soldier to Ministry of Defense and from policeman ... on the beat through the Ministry of Interior," Dempsey said. "As a result, we can understand what the individual in the small unit needs and ensure that that process is tied back to some system that's in place at the national level to support them."
Understanding what is needed at the lowest levels will help the command work on post-referendum goals, Dempsey said. Efforts to drive al Qaeda out of Iraq must continue, and Iraqi forces must increasingly take the lead in operations. The general also indicated that encouraging ethnic diversity among the Iraqi security forces would support both of these goals.
Though the planned December elections will establish a permanent Iraqi government, Dempsey is not ready to predict an end to his command's involvement in Iraq.
"I'm not sure that I'm in a position just now ... to talk about 'mission complete,'" he said, adding that the issue is to determine how to adapt and change the mission to support the changing needs of the Iraqi security situation.