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Coalition Spokesman Highlights Dedication of Iraqi Troops

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2006 – Americans must understand the dedication, commitment and sacrifices of Iraqi troops, a top coalition spokesman said yesterday.

Iraqi soldiers and police are putting their lives on the line for a democratic, free Iraq, Army Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell, Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, said in a telephone interview from Baghdad.

Coalition forces have trained and equipped about 320,000 Iraqi soldiers and police. This number will reach 355,000 by the end of the year. They are increasingly in the lead in the fight against insurgents and sectarian violence.

“Last month during Ramadan, when we experienced one of the highest months of American casualties with over 100 killed in action, at the same time the Iraqi security forces had over three times that number killed in action,” Caldwell said. They also suffered the same proportion of wounded as U.S. forces did.

“Yet every month they continue to give and go out there and try and secure a better country for their people,” Caldwell said.

The Iraqi army is father down the road to professionalism than the Iraqi police, Caldwell said. But the Ministry of Interior, which runs the police effort in the Iraqi government, is moving forward to correct deficiencies. Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani fired 3,000 members of the ministry in October for lack of professionalism. Many of those fired had ties to illegal militias and were working with them. Last week, Bolani announced criminal proceedings against 50 ministry employees for alleged involvement in illegal detention operations and torture.

The minister also pulled an entire police brigade off the front lines in Baghdad because he felt its allegiance was not to the country but to a particular religious sect. “He pulled them off-line, changed their leadership and put them through training,” Caldwell said.

The ministry wants to ensure the brigade has the professional skills they need before allowing the unit to go back out on the streets.

Caldwell cautioned people not to compare the Iraqi military and police to U.S. forces. “They are not going to have the same level of proficiency or effectiveness that our military has for many more years,” he said. “But given that they are about three years old right now, it’s incredible what they’ve accomplished, and they continue getting better all the time.

“That’s the key point,” he continued. “The questions are: Are they moving forward? Are they getting better? Are they establishing better command and control mechanisms? Are they doing a better job of looking after their people? The answer is: They are.”

Coalition forces continue to help train the army and police. Coalition officials have bulked up military and police training teams. “Just in Baghdad alone, we brought five additional companies of MPs worth of police training teams and put them into the city,” Caldwell said.

This allows the coalition to provide training in more than 100 police stations in Baghdad where there was none. “We have the ability now to provide more coaching and teaching and mentoring to those counterparts,” Caldwell said. “We’re finding that once we put them through the training programs and you’ve equipped them and put them out in the field, that’s where they need long-term mentoring. These training teams are making an incredible difference in what (the Iraqis) are able to achieve.”

Coalition forces continue to work with Iraqi counterparts on developing a command and control system for the Iraqis. Caldwell said the coalition will continue to provide logistical, medical, air and transportation support for Iraqi forces. Iraqi soldiers and police are learning the combat-support ropes, but have a way to go before they can be independent, he said. “The Iraqi elements that are being put through the training should be out of training and be fully responsible for that aspect of supplying their own troops by this time next year,” he said.

Caldwell said one of his biggest problems is getting people to understand just how much progress Iraqis are making. “This is a brand-new government with a brand-new leadership, and they are dealing with the here and now problems,” he said. “It really is interesting to see all that is occurring, and they really are moving forward in many, many areas.”

But sensational events -- car bombs, sectarian killings, suicide attacks -- capture the headlines “and steal everything away from the good stuff that is going on,” he said. “There is no question that there are challenges dealing with the whole sectarian issue. But, at the same time they are making progress in many, many areas.”

Iraqi political parties are working together to address the problems of sectarian violence. In the last three weeks, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been able to get all parties working together. “They are learning how to negotiate, have a dialogue and to work behind the scenes to come to some sort of agreement,” Caldwell said.

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