Iraqis Eagerly Taking Responsibility for Country, General Says
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 24, 2006 The United States is seeing big returns on its three-year investment in Iraqi security forces, the U.S. commander in charge of training Iraqi forces said today.
Now is a critical time in the U.S. mission in Iraq, and U.S. forces are focusing more and more on transitioning to Iraqi forces, Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, said in a news conference from Iraq.
Transition is occurring not only in responsibility for battlespace, but also in responsibility for Iraq's borders, plans and policies in Iraq's joint headquarters; business practices in the security ministries; and control of police and military training and education, Dempsey said.
"We are as resolute in transitioning Iraqi staffs into the lead in headquarters and ministries as we are in transitioning Iraqi commanders into the lead in the field," he said. "It's important to note that our Iraqi counterparts are eager for the responsibility."
Two divisions, 13 brigades and 49 battalions of the Iraqi army and two brigades and six battalions of the national police are responsible for their own battlespace, Dempsey said. By July, Iraqi security forces will be responsible for security along all 3,631 kilometers of Iraq's borders, he added.
Much of the battlespace the Iraqis are responsible for is in secured areas or those with small populations. Dempsey pointed out that 50 percent of Baghdad is controlled by Iraqi forces and by the end of the year, when Iraqis control 75 percent of the country, much of that will include heavily populated and dangerous areas.
As Iraqi security forces improve, they are becoming more of a threat to insurgents and therefore are being targeted more, Dempsey said. Attacks on Iraqi security forces are nothing new, he said, but the Iraqi forces are no longer running from threats as they used to.
"It's important to note that the Iraqi police are standing their ground," he said.
To reduce sectarian conflicts, U.S. forces and the Iraqi government are working to balance the security forces ethnically, Dempsey said.
The odd-numbered divisions and the 6th Division in the Iraqi army are already diverse, because they were recruited and formed nationally, he said. The even-numbered divisions started as Iraqi National Guard units, so they were less diverse and are being adjusted over time, he said. The two national police forces -- commandos and the public order brigades -- are being merged together to even out ethnic differences, he added.
As the security forces mature, internal corruption and criminal conduct are inevitable, Dempsey said, but the U.S. and Iraqi governments are creating a system to discourage and punish this behavior. These efforts are to counter the ideology of the former regime, when corruption, embezzlement and human rights abuses were condoned, he explained.
"It's not that these things are not going to occur," he said. "But if they begin to punish conduct like that, change leaders and publicize it as a way of gaining public confidence, then I think we will have gotten where we need to be."
U.S. forces working on the transition efforts are doing so in a quiet, unselfish way, so the Iraqis can be recognized for the work they are doing in their own country, Dempsey said. He highlighted the fact that in a short time, they have worked with the coalition to bring their country far from its oppressive past.
"When you consider that we're only three years into this, ... our Iraqi counterparts deserve a lot of credit for their own perseverance and their own dedication to try to make this into something better than it was," he said.