Iraqi Forces Aim for Independent Operations
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 14, 2005 Enabling Iraqi forces to conduct independent counterinsurgency operations is now the goal of coalition forces in Iraq, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq said here today.
Army Lt. Gen. John Vines said in an interview that the capability of the Iraqi forces is growing quickly. "Sooner rather than later, Iraq will be able to provide for its own security," he said. "What we will see, very soon, is Iraqi soldiers and policemen and other security forces where previously the coalition has been doing that."
As Iraqi forces improve, Vines said, he suspects there will be "fewer coalition and fewer Americans here in Iraq at the end of this year."
Vines was quick to point out that any decision regarding force size will be driven by events on the ground. He said the way the Transitional National Assembly approaches the constitutional issue and works to include all Iraqis will also have a bearing on the number of troops. The National Assembly is scheduled to meet March 17.
Vines, who also commanded forces in Afghanistan, said the lesson he learned from that conflict and his time in Iraq is that, "You can't give freedom to someone; they have to take it. You can't present it and hope it sticks; they have to seize it."
He said freedom requires a vision from the people that is mirrored by their leaders. "We can't fight for someone else's freedom; it doesn't work," he said. "They have to be prepared to fight for their own."
Right now, the coalition supports Iraqi forces. Vines looks to the day when coalition forces simply provide insurance to operating Iraqi forces. Iraqis are taking the lead in many operations in the country, and they are learning and growing all the time, he said.
"The paradigm that had coalition forces doing most of the fighting will be reversed," Vines said. "Iraqi security forces will be able to secure their own future. And they have capabilities we don't have. They have language skills. They have cultural insights. They recognize accents. They have access to intelligence we don't have."
He said Iraqi security forces cover the spectrum in terms of capabilities, and he admits they have some learning and growing to do. "But the fact is," he added, "Iraqi forces have performed brilliantly, most recently in the Iraqi elections."
He said the security forces protected the Iraqi people as they voted in numbers "that should shame most western democracies." Iraqis voted despite threats and intimidation, and Iraqi security forces stood up to the insurgents.
Vines said the elections marked a huge step for the Iraqi people psychologically. "There're exceedingly proud of seizing their own destiny instead of it being imposed by someone," he said. "The anti-Iraqi forces -- the insurgents, terrorists, murderers -- underestimated the effect the election would have, not just in Iraq, but around the world."
The Iraqi people are realizing that terrorists like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are not patriots fighting to free the land of infidels, the general said. These are murderous thugs who use power for their own reasons, he added.
Vines said coalition forces have been close to capturing Zarqawi any number of times and will keep after him. "To strike oil, you have to keep drilling," he said, adding that the coalition is getting intelligence from some members of Zarqawi's cell.