North-Central Iraq Ready for Election, General Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 13, 2005 The progress of the Iraqi security forces in the four provinces of the north means that the election Jan. 30 "will be an election for Iraqis, run by Iraqis," a top military commander said here today.
Maj. Gen. John Batiste, commander of the Army's 1st Infantry Division and the coalition's Multinational Division North-Central, told reporters here and at the Pentagon that his area is ready for elections.
The area contains the provinces of Diyala, Salah ad Din and Tamin. Salah ad Din was one of the provinces that officials previously had said was not ready for elections. Batiste, however, said the cooperation among the Independent Election Commission of Iraq, the Iraqi security forces and the coalition has made it possible to change that assessment.
About 4 million people live in the area, which contains Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit and Samarra, which was an insurgent haven before U.S. and Iraqi forces purged them.
On Jan. 6 -- Army Day in Iraq -- the region celebrated the activation of Iraq's 4th Division. The division has four brigades and 18 battalions. Lt. Gen. Abdul Azziz, once the commander of the Iraqi War College, commands the division. Batiste said the establishment points to the growing effectiveness of the Iraqi military. The United States has pumped $32 million into the Iraqi forces in the region.
Batiste said the division is Iraq in a microcosm: Soldiers of every nationality and religious belief serve together in the army. "The division's soldiers represent the rich ethnic diversity of Iraq and are imbued with the energy, courage and determination that the Iraqi people have for freedom and democracy," Batiste said.
Batiste said the Iraqi forces either on their own or in conjunction with the coalition have detained 1,371 insurgents, killed 170 and wounded 36 in the area since Oct. 1. The Iraqis know who fits and who doesn't in the country, Batiste said, and because they are native to the area, they can detect something out of place, such as a different accent or style of clothes.
The Iraqi army which now includes the Iraqi National Guard is becoming more professional and more deadly to the insurgents, the general said, adding that this is why the insurgents are targeting them. He said the insurgent attacks ebb and flow, but that on Jan. 12, about 24 attacks took place, about 25 percent of which were directed against the Iraqi security forces. That percentage is going up, he said.
Samarra does have problems as the election approaches, Batiste acknowledged. The city has no police force; that force folded in the face of insurgent threats in October. But there are enough Iraqi security forces in the city to provide protection, the general said. Four companies of U.S. troops "are permanently garrisoned" in the city, he added.
"The small number (of insurgents) that are trying to intimidate Iraq will not be successful," Batiste said. The troops will prevent insurgents from regaining a foothold in the city, he added.
The soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division are mentoring the security forces in their area, the general said, and this is paying off. "It's all about establishing personal relationships," he said. "It's personal relationship between battalion commanders Iraqi and American. It's executive officers, battalion operations officers, company commanders, first sergeants, platoon leaders and platoon sergeants right on down the line."
Even basic training has changed in Iraq. Under Saddam, the typical soldier shot three bullets a year, Batiste said. Now they fire 3,000 rounds a year and are fully qualified on their weapons.
Though his area is ready for elections, the general said, he knows the coming weeks will be tough. "I expect the insurgency to continue with intimidation in small cells," he said. "(The insurgent) is going to intimidate the weak. He is going to go after the lamb. He'll go after the Iraqi security forces when he can find them in small numbers because he's beginning to fear the Iraqi security forces. He will attack (U.S. troops) from a distance."