British Commander Optimistic About Southeastern Iraq
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
"We have been able to force ahead with the main effort, which is security sector reform," Maj. Gen. Jim Dutton, commander of Multinational Division Southeast, told Pentagon reporters today via a video link from Basra.
Dutton's 13,000-plus-troop multinational command is made up of 7,900 British troops, 3,000 Italians, 640 Australians, 622 Romanians, 562 Japanese, 388 Danes, 97 Czechs, 33 Lithuanians, five Norwegians, and two Portuguese.
Those troops, along with Iraqi army and police forces, are charged with providing security for four southeastern Iraqi provinces, which make up an area half the size of Great Britain. Dutton's area of operations contains the cities of Nasiriyah, Basrah, and Umm Qasr, Iraq's only deep-water port.
Dutton said his command would continue to build on its partnership with the Iraqi army, police and border-enforcement elements "until they are capable of conducting operations successfully without our direct assistance." The "relatively benign environment" across southeastern Iraq has contributed to advancements in regional security and stability, Dutton said, although there are occasional inter-tribal disputes and citizen frustrations over a jittery electricity and water infrastructure to resolve.
Yet, life in southeastern Iraq can still be dangerous. Dutton noted that roadside explosives have killed five British soldiers in Maysan province in the past three months. Improvised explosive devices are "a major concern" within his area of operations, Dutton said.
Dutton noted there is an ongoing Iraqi police investigation into the apparent murder of American journalist Steven Vincent, who was found shot to death near Basrah this week.
The general said he remains "confident that southeastern Iraq will continue to develop."
"There is a real enthusiasm here for the democratic process, and there was a very high turnout" for the January 2005 election, he said.
Dutton said there is "no shortage of volunteers" who want to join the new Iraqi army, noting there are now about 5,500 Iraqi soldiers in his sector. That number is expected to increase to 9,000 soldiers next year, he said.
The new Iraqi police are receiving good training at academies in Jordan or Baghdad, Dutton said. There are about 25,000 police in southeastern Iraq, he said, more than 14,000 of whom have received training.
Any future departure of coalition troops from southeastern Iraq would be "conditions-based, and not time-based" and would be a joint decision made between the coalition and the Iraqi government, Dutton said.
Iraq has "a long way to go," Dutton acknowledged. But, he emphasized, "there is no doubt that this country has the resources and the people have the natural talent and desire for improvement that should prove to be a winning combination."
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