Petraeus Details Iraqi Military Progress
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2005 The Iraqi security forces have made enormous progress over the past 16 months, the U.S. Army general who oversaw their training for more than a year said during a Pentagon news conference today.
Lt. Gen. David Petraeus headed Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq for 15 months before turning the command over to Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey last month.
Petraeus said that while much more work needs to be done, no one should belittle the progress that has been made, especially since the progress has taken place in spite of a brutal insurgency.
Iraqi security force readiness has continued to grow with each passing week, the general told reporters, and will grow even more between now and the Oct. 15 national referendum on a draft constitution. "There are now over 197,000 trained and equipped Iraqi security forces, and that should be close to 200,000 by the time of the referendum," he said.
More than 115 Iraqi police and army combat battalions are in the counterinsurgency fight, he said. About 80 of the battalions are fighting alongside U.S. forces, which the general said equates to Level 3 readiness in the four-tier readiness rating system. "Over 36 (battalions) are assessed as being 'in the lead,'" he said. In the lead is the term associated with Level 2 readiness, and means the troops are capable of leading joint patrols, as opposed to merely participating.
Level 1 units are labeled as being "fully independent." There is one battalion in this category, Petraeus said.
The general said it is a mistake to fixate on the Level 1 unit. He said Americans should to expand their understanding of the readiness levels and what each unit brings to the fight.
Level 3 units fight alongside coalition forces. These units contribute personnel, language capabilities, maintain guard posts and set up traffic checkpoints even as they learn from their coalition counterparts. A Level 3 battalion works with a U.S. unit in guarding Airport Road in Baghdad, he said.
Of the more than 36 units at Level 2, most have their own areas of operation. Seven Iraqi battalions in Baghdad alone have their own areas of responsibility, the general said, and more than 10 Iraqi battalions operated in and around Tal Afar during the fighting there.
Sixteen Iraqi battalions are operating in eastern Anbar province - a mixture of Level 2 and Level 3 units.
"Three Iraqi battalions - all Level 2 -- ... secure Haifa Street (in Baghdad), that was known as 'Purple Heart Boulevard,'" the general said.
Finally, Iraqi forces are totally responsible for control of the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, Petraeus said.
While Iraqi units are not the equal of the 1st Marine Division or the 101st Airborne Division, "they have come a very long way in a relatively short period of time in the face of a brutal enemy that has tried everything to disrupt and derail the re-establishment of Iraqi security forces, reconstruction of their infrastructure and the delivery of their equipment," Petraeus said.
The three-star general noted that Iraqi forces have taken twice the casualties that American forces have taken, yet recruiting continues strong in the country and the Iraqi people are generally proud of their military personnel.
Coalition forces have been working to transition Iraqi units up the readiness levels. The Iraqi units need help in logistics and maintenance, building ministerial infrastructures, building and using a command and control system, and setting up an intelligence capability, Petraeus said. He emphasized that the first priority has been to field fighting troops, knowing the coalition could support them until an Iraqi support structure could take shape.
Iraqis are engaging in long-term planning. They have set up a military academy that has 500 cadets. NATO has set up a staff college to train staff officers for division and higher jobs. The Iraqis have committed to having a professional noncommissioned officer corps and they have set up professional military education facilities to make that happen, Petraeus said. All these movements won't be felt immediately, but they will certainly help readiness down the road, he added.
Iraqi security force numbers and readiness have been moving steadily upward over the course of the last 15 months, Petraeus said. "The Iraqis are in this fight," he said. "They are fighting and dying for their country. And they are fighting increasingly well."