New Iraq Security Plan Will Take Months to Accomplish, General Says
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Speaking from Baghdad during an interview on CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer,” Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno emphasized that things are moving in the right direction.
“The key is we’re doing this jointly,” Odierno said. “Coalition forces, Iraqi army forces, Iraqi police, we stay together until we get the right level of security and then we turn it over to the Iraqi security forces. “I think that will take some time,” he continued. “I don’t want to put an exact time on it, but a minimum of six to nine months.”
Odierno said military officials have begun to see some progress in the plan’s early stages. The United States is in the process of moving its second brigade into Baghdad, and Iraq has moved 18 battalions into the area, he said.
The Iraqi battalions have not reported at full strength, the general acknowledged. Seven battalions came into the area at 55 to 65 percent of their end-strength, another seven came in at 65 to 85 percent. The final four were over 95 percent of their end strength, he said, noting that improvement is evident as Iraqi military leaders learn the ropes.
“They’re learning about how to deploy their forces,” Odierno said. “They’re learning as leaders how to deploy forces in and around Baghdad. We’re seeing significant improvement in that as we continue to move forward.”
Additionally, the Iraqis are training 7,500 soldiers every five weeks. Those newly-minted Iraqi soldiers will be used as replacements for the units in Baghdad, Odierno said.
But despite the progress seen so far, Odierno cautioned against unrealistic expectations. The Iraqi government will need time to establish itself as the security situation improves, he explained.
“We could maintain security here; we could have things look good for one or two weeks,” he said. “The key to this is being able to show that we can maintain the security in Baghdad over a long period of time -- six (to) seven months -- which enables the Iraqi government to mature.”
That sustained security also will enable the Iraqi security forces to continue to mature and take control, the general said.
Illegal militias in Iraq are another concern. One of the best-known militia leaders, radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has taken a low profile as of late, and rumors have said both that he’s fled to Iran and that he’s back in Iraq. Odierno is not fazed by the rumors.
“I choose not to worry too much about that. I try to concern myself with what’s going on here in Iraq,” he said.
And what’s going on in Iraq is encouraging, he said.
“It’s about understanding who’s reconcilable and who’s not,” the general said. “Over the last 60 to 70 days, we’ve taken over 700 members of Shiia extremists.”
He said the military’s hope is that the Iraqi government will reach out to the Shiia extremists and that they’ll respond in nonviolent means.
“(We) hope most of them will come across and become a part of this government and become a part of the Iraqi security forces,” he said. “It’s a military and political line to reconcile these militias.”
While it’s clear the Sunni extremists conduct about 70 percent of the attacks, the Shiia militia attacks have proved more devastating, Odierno said.
“What has gotten some attention about the Shiia extremists is that they’ve used these explosively-formed projectiles, which, per event, are the most deadly that we’ve had,” he said. “There’s a lower number of those that occur, but per event, they’re more deadly.”
Because of the machining and materials required to make these weapons, the general said he’s sure he knows where they’re coming from.
“I am convinced that they are coming in from Iran,” Odierno said. “We have seen people try to replicate them here in Iraq, and they have not been able to do it.”
He pointed to a large cache found recently as evidence that the weapons couldn’t be made in Iraq. The raw materials found in the cache could have produced nearly 140 of the deadly projectiles, he said.
While he’s sure the weapons are coming in from Iran, Odierno said, forces won’t go into the neighboring country to deal with those brining them across the border. “I will deal with them inside of Iraq,” Odierno said. “If they come into Iraq and we believe they’re acting against the government of Iraq, we’ll take action no matter who it is.”
Looking to the Anbar province, Odierno said forces there are having success in quelling the violence. That progress has to do with the tribal leaders who, after harsh treatment at the hands of al Qaeda elements, now saying they don’t want to be associated with al Qaeda or al Qaeda-associated organizations.
“They realized they would not live like that, and they realized that they’d like to come in with the coalition and work with the coalition forces to defeat and go against al Qaeda,” he said. “We’ve seen a significant movement in al Anbar Province over the last three or four or five months.
“We still have a threat out in al Anbar province,” he continued, “but we believe now we have a good way ahead working with these tribal leaders.”
Iraqi army and police recruiting numbers have hit record highs in Anbar over the last three months, Odierno added.
U.S. forces have contributed greatly to all the progress in Iraq, Odierno said, adding he is confident in the training they receive before deploying to the country and the technology and equipment they receive when they arrive.
“I’m extremely confident in them and their abilities and the training they’ve got,” he said, adding it’s the troops’ attitude is most important.
“They have great attitudes. They understand why they’re here, (and) I’m extremely proud of them every day,” he said.
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