September 11th, 2006 16:59 EST
Iraqi Security Forces Chart Country's Course to Self-Sufficiency By David McKeeby
Washington -- Iraqi Security Forces` continued improvement is setting the country on a firm path to self-sufficiency, " top Defense Department officials told members of Congress September 11.
Our goal is for the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own security and be an ally in the war on terror, " said Eric Edelman, under secretary of defense for policy, in testimony before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations.
Edelman was joined at the hearing by Navy Rear Admiral William D. Sullivan, vice director for strategic plans and policies for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to update Congress on U.S. efforts to help Iraq build a strong, independent democracy in the heart of the Middle East -- a key objective to winning the global War on Terror. (See related article.)
A peaceful, united Iraq, constitutionally ordered to democratic principles will undermine the insistence of radical Islamists that Islam and democracy are incompatible, " Edelman said.
He said the U.S.-led coalition force is playing a key role in Iraq by helping provide short-term security while assisting the new democratically elected government build new army and police forces to serve and protect their citizens. (See related article.)
From a military standpoint, " Sullivan told subcommittee members, the coalition`s goal remains an Iraqi government, transitioned to security self-reliance, where all Iraqis unite against violence, and where the government of Iraq provides security, law and order and is a legitimate authority. "
The officials said that only six months ago, there were only two Iraqi divisions capable of taking the lead in counterinsurgency operations. As of the end of July, Edelman said, there were five army divisions " along with 26 brigades and 85 battalions " capable of independent operations.
Today, Iraqi forces are responsible for maintaining security in more than 65 percent of the country, Edelman said, including major population centers. Coalition forces expect to finish army and police training programs by the end of 2006, he said, adding they will continue handing over area bases to the Iraqis as they assume local control. (See related article.)
Edelman echoed a recent statement by coalition forces commander General George Casey expressing cautious optimism that progress will continue over the next 12 months to 18 months.
But, he emphasized, Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timelines, will determine our success in Iraq. "
Until the Iraqis can take full control of their security, Edelman said, the coalition will stay on the offensive and continue to support and train Iraqis so they can develop the skills necessary to defend their country. "
IRAQ ACHIEVES TWO MAJOR MILESTONES
In recent months, Iraq has reached two milestones, the officials said. First came the full transition of Muthanna province to Iraqi civilian authorities, which now oversee day-to-day governance in Iraq`s southernmost province. Neighboring Din Gar province is among the provinces expected to follow Muthanna in the coming months, Edelman said. (See related article.)
The second milestone occurred September 7 during a ceremony initiating the handover of Iraq`s armed forces to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The handover of the forces, jointly administered by Iraqi authorities and the coalition since 2003, represented a major step forward for Iraqi security. (See related article.)
As part of the transition, Edelman highlighted the efforts of the newly formed Joint Committee to Achieve Iraqi Security and Self-Reliance. The body, comprised of senior Iraqi and coalition officials, has been tasked with developing a road map " for full transition of security responsibility to the Iraqi security forces, and will identify the steps required to lead to the eventual and gradual withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraq. "
Iraqi forces also are showing their improved capabilities in Operation Together Forward, " the Iraqi initiative to curb violence in the Baghdad, Sullivan said. (See related article.)
Our joint operations continue to make progress, and we are cautiously optimistic and encouraged by the early indicators, " Sullivan said. Emphasizing that the Baghdad security effort was still in its early phases, he also highlighted Iraqi army and police engagement in local civil works projects to help area residents rebuild their neighborhoods. (See related article.)
Edelman identified ongoing sectarian violence, exacerbated by sectarian militias and terrorist groups, as the greatest security threat facing the country. There`s no denying that conditions that could lead to civil war exist, " Edelman warned, should Iraqi forces and their coalition allies abandon efforts to safeguard the Iraqi capital. (See related article.)
Iraqi authorities also continue to face several challenges in building their security infrastructure, the under secretary acknowledged, including a lack of experienced officers, the logistics capability to keep forces supplied in the field and ever-changing enemy tactics. But the steady numbers of Iraqi citizens signing up to join the army and police, he said, are a cause for optimism about the country`s future.
One thing I believe that the Iraqis do have is will, " Edelman added, Iraqis clearly want to win their fight for democracy. "
For more information, see Iraq Update.