Odierno Cites Positive Trends in Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2008 The commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq today cited a series of positive trends that includes more civilian cooperation and declines in attacks and in military and civilian casualties.
During a conference call with military analysts from his headquarters in Baghdad, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said that June through December 2007 saw 28 straight weeks of declines in attacks.
The decline brought the levels of violence in Iraq down to levels not seen since 2004, Odierno said. The decline covered all areas of the country and included a reduction in improvised explosive devices. “Explosions of IEDs were down to a level somewhere around the beginning of 2004,” Odierno said.
The Iraqi security forces increased their strength by 110,000 soldiers and police through 2007. The army has made the most progress, and the force is gaining not only in numbers, but also in proficiency, the general said.
“They still have some work to do, but they are fighting,” he told the analysts. “The national police have made progress in their leadership, and we are encouraged by that. The Iraqi police are making progress at a bit slower pace.”
The Iraqi army’s command-and-control apparatus is robust enough to conduct independent operations fairly effectively, he said, though the army still has trouble with logistics and “enablers,” such as supporting fires, aviation and maintenance.
All Iraqi formations are manned at a higher level than in the past, Odierno said, and they are experienced. “I would say 80 percent of the units have proven themselves in battle over the last year,” he said.
Sectarianism remains a problem for Iraqi security forces. “It is at a much lower level in the army and higher with police,” he said. “The sectarianism in the national police has dropped, but (the force) still has a long way to go.” Changes in the national police leadership and progress at the country’s Interior Ministry are helping clear the national police of sectarianism and corruption, he said.
Another indicator of progress is an increase in the number of weapons caches found. Much of this has to do with having more forces on the ground, but much of it also has to do with the shift in strategy, Odierno explained.
Coalition and Iraqi forces now use combat outposts and joint security stations to maintain presence in Iraqi cities and towns. The citizens are more familiar with the security forces and see they are not going to leave the area. As a result, the forces are getting much better data from the citizens. The number of tips received from citizens has remained about the same as before the surge, Odierno said, “but the quality improved significantly.”
In 2007, coalition and Iraqi forces found two and a half times as many arms caches as they did in 2006, when they found 2,667 caches throughout Iraq. In 2007, the number jumped to 6,799.
Casualties tell another trend story. From April through July 2007, the build-up continued and American casualties rose as well, peaking in May. But since then, there has been a steady decline, Odierno said.
“We were able to eliminate safe havens for al Qaeda and Shiia extremists,” he said in explaining the decline. “The Iraqi forces improved their combat capacity, and the government improved its contact with the citizens. And the Sunnis started working against al Qaeda and started to work with us.”
In December, the coalition had its second-lowest level of servicemembers killed in action since March 2003. In overall deaths, which include Iraqi security forces and civilian casualties as well as coalition losses, “it was the lowest month since we’ve been in Iraq,” Odierno said. Wounded-in-action numbers also dropped, as did the severity of wounds experienced, the general added, and a decrease in ethno-sectarian violence has meant that civilian deaths in Iraq are at the lowest level in two years.