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U.S.-Iraqi partnership growing, general says

by Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

9/22/2009 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Iraqi security forces continue to make progress in providing security for their own country, the deputy commander of Multinational Corps Iraq said today.

Iraqi security forces are quickly improving as they train with American forces, Maj. Gen. James P. Hunt said during a videoconference from Baghdad with Pentagon reporters.

"This is all about partnering," General Hunt said. "We find that the closer we work with the Iraqi security forces, the better they are, the better they get and the faster they get better.

"Whenever we, frankly, want to see them do better, our reaction is, let's get closer to them; let's hug them closer; let's teach them what we know."

It has been three months since U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq's cities and towns as part of the U.S.-Iraq security agreement. Iraqi security forces are progressing well and continue to improve in taking over security, General Hunt said.

"We've seen the enemy test the abilities of the security forces and the Iraqi people through several high-profile attacks," he said, "but it's encouraging to see the confidence of these forces and the strong will of the Iraqi people as they reject the violence and work through these situations for peace and stability throughout the region."

Iraq is still a dangerous area -- especially in the north, General Hunt said. Still, the enemy has lost the ability to conduct sustained operations, proving Iraqi forces' increased capabilities.

The Iraqi government is taking advantage of the improved security to rebuild the economy and infrastructure and to put in place the political foundation -- local, provincial and federal -- needed to run the country.

"Although there is still much work to be done, our provincial reconstruction teams and the military work closely with the local governments on projects to improve the lives of Iraqi people," General Hunt said. "Whether it is civilians training Iraqis in civic-action programs or a civil affairs team helping to improve health care in a province, we are establishing a long-term relationship at every level of society."

Iraq's security has improved to the extent that U.S. forces have begun to drawdown in earnest. "We have closed over 200 bases and facilities, processed almost 50,000 pieces of equipment and saved over $647 million by efficiently scaling contract requirements," General Hunt said.

The 125,000 U.S. servicemembers in Iraq continue to partner with Iraqi units. American units help their Iraqi counterparts in building their intelligence, surveillance and investigative capabilities to defeat criminal elements. U.S. forces also provide certain logistics support to the Iraqis, but that is drawing down also.

"We partner with Iraqi security forces essentially from the battalion up through the corps level, so we are involved with them in day-to-day decision-making and leadership processes," General Hunt said.

The Iraqis have proved to be quick learners and are learning how to best protect the people. "As a general rule, they are respected by the populace in the cities," he said. "And so they are able more and more to do this without our guidance and without our day-to-day involvement and advice."

U.S. forces are to remain at about the current level through the Iraqi elections in January. Once the government is installed, troop strength is to drop to about 50,000 U.S. troops in country by the end of August 2010, with all American troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

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