Iraqis Want End to Occupation, But Don't Want Coalition to Leave
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 23, 2004 Polls indicate Iraqis want the occupation of their country to end, but don't want the coalition to leave, the senior spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority said here today.
Dan Senor said the overwhelming majority of Iraqis are grateful for their liberation and are glad that Saddam Hussein's rule is over. They want to rule themselves, he said, but they know the security situation in Iraq requires continued coalition presence.
Senor and Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 7, met with members of the Pentagon press corps traveling with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"(The Iraqis) want political sovereignty, and they're going to get political sovereignty on June 30, as outlined in the Nov. 15 agreement" between the coalition and the Iraqi Governing Council, Senor said. "But they also want some presence of U.S. security forces here in order to address security problems going forward."
A status-of-forces agreement has yet to be worked out that would detail the parameters of a U.S. military presence in Iraq after June 30. Senor said the governing council and provincial leaders around Iraq recognize the need for a U.S. forces role, as does most of the Iraqi population.
"They recognize what we recognize, and that is that Iraq is now the central front in the war on terrorism," he said, "and a number of organizations, some with ties to al Qaeda, have decided to stake their ground in Iraq. And against that backdrop, while the Iraqi security forces are increasing in number dramatically there is still an important role for the U.S. military in helping to stabilize the situation."
Kimmitt said that as much progress as Iraqi security forces have made as they've grown from zero to more than 200,000 strong in only nine months, they're not ready to control security in Iraq independently.
"They themselves understand that they're not ready yet," he said. "But we are firmly committed to working side by side with them to get them to where they need to be before we start diminishing either our visibility or our responsibilities."
The general said putting Iraqi security forces out early was a deliberate decision based on what they bring to the equation. They know the language, culture, neighborhoods and people, he said, and Iraqi citizens naturally trust them more than they do coalition troops.
"One can't overestimate the value they bring in being able to link us to the Iraqi people and demonstrate the fact that we, in fact, are trying to turn them into a capable and credible force," Kimmitt added.
While Iraqi security forces continue to grow both in numbers and in responsibility, he said there's no shortcut to the experience the Iraqis need to become a fully capably security force. "It takes us 20 years to train a colonel. It takes us 10 years to train a sergeant to Western values and Western tactics, techniques and procedures," he pointed out, noting that the new Iraqi security forces have only been on the street for six months. "It's going to take some time," he said.
Senor said that security was a big-ticket item in the supplemental spending package for Iraq, with $3.2 billion dedicated to training and equipment for Iraqi security forces.
Meanwhile, the massive deployment and redeployment effort is almost half complete as troops return home from a year or more in Iraq and their replacements deploy to pick up the duty. Kimmitt said the transfer of authority is going well, partly because of experience gained in Bosnia and Kosovo, but the magnitude of this effort is a first.
"I think it's a credit to the logisticians who have planned this into the minute, infinite detail," the general said, "and the people on the ground who have actually gone out and ensured that the routes are open and that we've done this with a minimum of disruption to daily life and with the backdrop of that transfer going on, still conducting offensive operations to kill or capture anti-Iraqi elements and anti-coalition elements."