Iraqi Forces Continue to Improve, But Threat Remains, General Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 9, 2008 Iraqi soldiers and police are demonstrating increased capability, yet more work needs to be done in view of the continued terrorist threat in Iraq, a senior U.S. military officer said at a Capitol Hill hearing today.
Iraq’s security forces acquitted themselves well during recent Iraqi-initiated anti-terrorist operations in Baghdad’s Sadr City section, Basra, Mosul and Amarah, Army Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, the former commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq and the NATO training mission in Iraq, said in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
Army Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick took over command of MSTC-I from Dubik on July 3. Dubik is slated to retire after 37 years of Army service.
“Certainly, the Basra operation was off to a rough start, but equally certain, is this: that the Basra operation was tactically and strategically successful in the end, and that each of the other major operations in Mosul, Sadr City and Amarah had been progressively better,” Dubik said at the House hearing.
Iraqi soldiers and police have gained confidence from those successful operations, Dubik explained, noting that each operation “cements in their minds the kinds of capabilities that they know they have to develop” to achieve further success.
Dubik took command of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq and the NATO training mission in Iraq on June 10, 2007. Under his leadership, the security transition command helped the Iraqi military and police forces grow to nearly 185 army, national police and special operations battalions. The forces under Iraq’s ministries of Interior and Defense now number more than 550,000.
The Iraqis have built 11 brigade headquarters and 35 battalions over the past 12 months, Dubik reported. Overall Iraqi military readiness ratings, as well as the number of Iraqi-conducted patrols, are both trending upward, he added.
Also, polls show that Iraqi citizens’ confidence in their security forces has improved every month since November, the general said.
Still, challenges remain, Dubik cautioned.
“The Iraqi security forces are still reliant on our enablers,” Dubik pointed out. “Their training is basic; their leader shortages still exist; and distribution of leaders is uneven.
“There are still pockets of sectarianism,” he continued, “and last, the problems of rapid growth that any nation would face are evident in the Iraqi security forces.”
Nonetheless, Iraqi soldiers and police are dedicated to achieve added improvement, Dubik said, so that they can eventually take the lead in security affairs in their country.
To ensure that gains achieved by last year’s surge operations in Iraq are maintained, “continued coalition advisory and training teams, along with partnership units, is necessary, as is Iraqi security-force funding,” Dubik said.
“From my standpoint, we should not underestimate the difficulty of the task remaining,” the general emphasized. “The successes of the past year-plus are significant, are dramatic, but can be reversed, and they can be stymied.”
Terrorists operating in Iraq “are still very active, as recent reports have seen,” the general observed. “They are still capable, though in diminishing frequency, of conducting violent attacks against the innocent.”
Al-Qaida and other terrorists want to topple the Iraqi government and reverse the security gains achieved over the past 15 months, Dubik said. The terrorists “have not given up, nor does anyone expect them to,” he noted. “They recognize that they have lost the initiative, but they seek to regain it.”
The Iraqi Defense and Interior ministries continue to increase their annual budgeted expenditures for their country’s military and police, respectively, Dubik reported. And aggressive use of the U.S. foreign military sales program “is helping to equip the Iraqi security forces,” he added, noting the Iraqis have bought more than $1.4 billion in U.S. military equipment.
“This accelerated delivery has made important positive contributions to the Iraqi security forces’ capability,” Dubik said.