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Iraqis Realize They Need Coalition to Stay, Odierno Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 2008 – Coalition servicemembers are making a difference in Iraq, and despite political rhetoric there, the country’s leaders realize they need coalition forces to remain, the commander of coalition ground forces said yesterday.

Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said that when he visits battalions and companies throughout Iraq, he is struck by the way Iraqis deal with coalition forces.

“It’s a very interesting dynamic,” the general said during a conference call with military analysts from his headquarters in Baghdad. “I go out about five times a week, … and it’s clear the Iraqis’ relationships with coalition forces is extremely strong.”

As part of the surge strategy, coalition units moved into the neighborhoods. Coalition forces, in partnership with Iraqi soldiers and police, set up joint security stations or combat outposts in neighborhoods throughout Baghdad and in villages and cities throughout Iraq. The U.S. and Iraqi forces eat, live and patrol together. These forces meet the people day after day, and the population gets to know the Americans.

“When I go out on a patrol, the Iraqis will start asking about folks who aren’t with us,” Odierno said. “They’ll ask ‘Where’s Sergeant Z today?’ And they actually ask why that person isn’t out. So the relationships are building.”

On the streets, the people see the security that coalition forces have helped bring to the neighborhoods, he said. That security allows public works projects to move forward, shops to reopen and markets to stock food and sundries. It allows children to go to school and parents to earn a living. It allows the people to walk about the streets without fear.

At the national level, the political rhetoric is different, Odierno said.

“Some Iraqi leaders are saying, ‘We really don’t need coalition forces, we only need them for a bit longer, we really want to take (the security mission) over,’” he said.

The idea of doing the mission on their own is right, Odierno acknowledged, but he added that even those Iraqi officials most insistent that the coalition leave are not saying they should leave right now.

“They all realize they want us to stay here a while longer,” the general said. “They believe in order for them to continue to progress, the coalition forces need to be here for a period of time longer.”

Most Iraqis want the coalition to reduce its forces as conditions dictate, he said. “They feel they need a few more years -- three to five years, in my opinion -- of some level of commitment here by coalition forces in order for them to work through their problems and be ready to move forward on their own,” he explained.

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Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno

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Multinational Corps Iraq

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