Ground Forces Commander in Iraq Cites Progress
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 21, 2005 With the one-year anniversary of the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi government approaching, the commander of ground troops there today said he is pleased with the progress being made in the country.
Army Lt. Gen. John Vines, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, told Pentagon reporters via satellite that any decision on U.S. troops levels in Iraq will be made in response to events on the ground.
Vines said that commanders in theater constantly discuss manning in the region. They make decisions based on actions in Iraq and what the future looks like. "At this point, I would not be prepared to recommend a drawdown prior to the (October) election, certainly not any significant numbers," he said.
Vines ticked off a number of successes the Iraqis have had since the Coalition Provisional Authority turned over sovereignty to the Iraqi government June 28, 2004. He said Iraq held successful elections Jan. 30; the Iraqi National Assembly stood up; and the assembly is working on the Iraqi constitution. That document is due to be finished in August, and there will be a referendum on it not later than Oct. 15.
In addition, the security forces of Iraq "are continuing to make significant progress," Vines said. At this time last year, there was one battalion trained and equipped. Now more than 100 battalions of the Iraqi army are fielded, and over 80,000 other forces -- border police, Ministry of Interior forces, Facilities Protection Services -- have been fielded. "Their performance on the whole has been very good," he said. "They're well-led, they've proven that they are patriotic, they're willing to fight, and they do extraordinarily well.
"And so my concern, quite frankly, is not about their ability to conduct the operations," he continued. "It's about continuing to develop national capacity, so those forces can be fed, so those forces can be sustained with equipment and spare parts and replacement personnel and the like."
The insurgents are losing the battle for the sympathy of the Iraqi people. Vines said that the insurgency is a narrow group of people. "The level of support for violence is pretty narrow," he said.
The jihadists -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group is an example -- are limited, but extremely violent. "(The jihadist movement) has access to some technical capability, and it uses foreign fighters, historically, primarily to murder other Iraqis," he said. "It brings in foreigners, and they kill themselves and others, sometimes in vehicles, sometimes ... they'll put a vest on and detonate it among a group."
There are also a small group of Sunni religious extremists within Iraq. "Their opposition to the new government is based on religious objections," the general said. "Again, that group is quite small, but it is very violent."
There is also a grouping of former-regime elements, many with some military training, who have allied themselves with the jihadists. "If they had a bumper sticker it would probably say, 'If you liked Saddam, you'll love us,' because they want to resume power," Vines said.
There is also a much larger group, principally Sunni Arabs, who want to see all foreign forces leave the country.
Insurgents in Iraq work in small cells, and evidence indicates that most Iraqis have turned against the groups, Vines said.
Two indicators the coalition uses to gage Iraqi public opinion are recruiting for the Iraqi security forces and tips from Iraqis about anti-Iraqi forces. Vines said that recruiting remains very strong. Even though attacks on Iraqi security forces are approaching 70 per day, that trend remains strong. And tips from Iraqis are going up, not down, in response to the attacks.
"That's one of the things we monitor very closely, is how effective the attacks are," Vines said. "Because let's be honest about that, what they're attempting to do is to intimidate, threaten, coerce the population. And we see increased evidence that the population is rejecting the insurgency. It is rejecting attacks against the population."
Zarqawi insists that it is acceptable to murder innocent Muslims in the pursuit of his objectives, Vines said. "Iraqis obviously don't agree with that," he said, noting that the number of tips from citizens is up. "We see the population increasingly rejecting the insurgency at large. They want to see an Iraqi government that provides for its own security."