Iraqi Security Forces Proving More Capable, U.S. General Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2004 Iraq's security forces are improving and assuming a growing role in establishing law and order across the country, a senior U.S. military officer stationed in Baghdad said today.
"The Iraqi security forces, every day, are proving themselves more capable and more fit," Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, the multinational forces' deputy operations director, told Pentagon Channel journalist Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sean Lehman.
In fact, Lessel said, Iraqi security forces are slated to take on the law and order mission in Najaf as Muqtada al-Sadr's followers stack arms and depart the city's Imam Ali Shrine as part of a peace deal brokered Aug. 26 by senior Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani.
Lessel noted that Iraqi security forces will move in to maintain and "take full control" of the shrine, as well as to establish order in Najaf and the nearby city of Kufa.
U.S. troops in the area will maintain their present positions, Lessel noted, until the interim Iraqi government can confirm that their security forces are in control of Najaf and that Sadr's militia has laid down its arms and left.
Besides being called in to restore law and order in Najaf and elsewhere across the country, Iraq's security forces also have been responsible for discovering a number of explosive devices and weapons caches in recent weeks.
For example, Iraqi National Guard members found a huge cache of weapons and ordnance Aug. 26 during a joint raid conducted with U.S. Marines on a home near Haswah, according to a Multinational Force Iraq news release.
About 132 107 mm rockets were seized during the raid, the release stated, as well as seven 57 mm rockets, 10 AK-47 assault rifles, seven 125 mm tank rounds, five rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 124 RPG rounds, 200 mortar rounds, bomb-making materials and improvised explosive devices.
The Marines, from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, took five suspected militants into custody for questioning after the raid, the release said.
Meanwhile, Lessel observed that training of Iraqi security forces moves forward as equipment "has continued to flow in" for Iraqi police, National Guard and other armed forces.
The relationship between Iraqi security forces and U.S.-coalition troops continues to improve, Lessel said, citing the "close coordination" between the interim Iraqi government and multinational force officials and the partnership between the multinational forces and Iraqi police, National Guard, and other military members.
And, as Iraqi police and troops improve their capabilities, Lessel noted, fewer joint patrols are taking place with U.S. and coalition troops, giving way to independent Iraqi patrols.
"Originally, there were primarily multinational force patrols that were going out," Lessel said. As the new Iraqi security forces were created and trained, he continued, they participated in joint patrols with U.S. and other troops for on-the-job training.
And as Iraqi security forces gained experience "those joint patrols became separate patrols," Lessel explained, noting that more and more Iraqi security forces today are conducting independent patrols.
Iraqi patrols "are probably a more successful way of doing business," Lessel acknowledged, because "the Iraqi people will trust (and) interact more with Iraqi security forces, sometimes, than they will with the multinational forces."
However, he pointed out, U.S. multinational force troops remain available for backup assistance if the Iraqis request it.
American military civil affairs units in Iraq, Lessel noted, continue to be involved in "a pretty extensive effort" to rebuild the country and restore its infrastructure.
"They are out there engaging" with and helping Iraqi citizens, Lessel said. "We've got many school construction projects going on" as the start of a new academic year approaches, he added.
Other U.S. reconstruction projects, he said, involve building up and administering soccer events for Iraqi children, whose natural interest for the sport was likely reinforced by Iraq's participation in the Athens Olympics.
Yet, "this is not just a U.S. effort," Lessel asserted, noting that more than 30 countries are contributing personnel and other kinds of support for Iraq rebuilding projects.
"All of these countries are coming together to support the Iraqi people, to support the security environment, and to help the Iraqi people move forward to a brighter future," Lessel noted.
However, violence continues in Iraq, as 12 Task Force Baghdad soldiers were reported wounded today when several hand grenades were tossed at their patrol, according to a MNF-I press release. Eight persons suspected in connection with the grenade attacks were detained.
And in Mosul today, an exploding car bomb injured one American soldier and wounded 10 Iraqi civilians, according to a MNF-I news release. One Stryker U.S. military vehicle was damaged in the attack.