By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 14, 2006 – Nine seemingly coordinated attacks yesterday in Kirkuk, Iraq, demonstrate that enemy forces haven't given up their efforts to derail the new Iraqi government, a top military official said here today. The attacks "indicate that there are still cells of hardened, lethal and merciless individuals who do not hesitate to kill innocent civilians in an effort to undermine the legitimate government of Iraq," Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, the Joint Staff's deputy director for regional operations, told Pentagon reporters. The attacks killed three Iraqi policemen and at least 11 Iraqi civilians, and wounded seven police and at least 14 civilians.
Ham declined to disclose details about or even name the self-proclaimed successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. "We've seen the public announcement, ... and we'll have to see how that develops," he said. A June 7 U.S. air strike killed Zarqawi, a Jordanian who headed terrorist operations in Iraq. Egyptian-borne Abu Ayyub al-Masri has been identified in the press and on a Web site as Zarqawi's likely successor. However, other names have surfaced as well, and Ham declined to elaborate on whether Masri has aliases or if more than one man has stepped forward.
Intelligence assets in Iraq will make this assessment and see what measures the U.S. and Iraqis can take to "prevent him from exercising control," Ham said. "We'll try the best we can to determine who the key leaders are (and) who the operatives are," he said. "Those individuals operate at some individual peril." While details about who's now leading al Qaeda in Iraq remain cloudy, what's clear is that Zarqawi's death doesn't equate to his group's demise, Ham said. "Al Qaeda in Iraq remains a very, very deadly and dangerous organization, and it's very likely that someone is going to step forward and try to exercise control over that organization," he said. "And we'll watch that very, very carefully."
Aside from yesterday's attacks in Kirkuk, Ramadi continues to be "the most contentious city in Iraq," Ham said. However, he said, those looking for a large-scale offensive as the Iraqis establish a larger security-force presence there "may be somewhat off the mark." The Iraqis are working to establish a larger Iraqi security force presence in Ramadi. It's still to be determined what role U.S. forces will play in helping the Iraqis reestablish security in Ramadi, Ham said. Most likely, U.S. forces will take the lead in some parts of the city and Iraqi forces, supported by U.S. troops, in other parts. "We'll help them do that in any way that we can," he said.
"But overall, the responsibility resides with the Iraqis," Ham said. "It is ultimately the responsibility of the Iraqis to decide how they want to deal with reestablishing order and security in Iraq. And we believe that they are, in fact, doing that." Iraq's security forces are becoming increasingly capable and taking more of the lead in confronting these threats, Ham said. During the past month alone, 12 more Iraqi battalions, which make up an additional four Iraqi brigades, have assumed the lead for security responsibilities in their areas, he noted. In addition, coalition forces transferred seven more bases to the Iraqi government during the last month.
Ham said he doesn't expect it to be long before commanders on the ground in Iraq as well as Afghanistan are prepared to make assessments and recommendations about U.S. troop numbers. An assessment was originally expected in the springtime but got pushed back due to delays in forming Iraq's permanent government. Decisions about troop numbers -- whether they increase or decrease -- will be based on conditions on the ground, Ham said.
Commanders on the ground have a delicate balancing act to perform, he said. They understand that "having a larger force than necessary is not a productive way of operating, but having too small a force is not a productive way of operating, either."
The ultimate goal, Ham said, is to achieve a force somewhere between "what's too large to be an onerous presence and what's too small to be effective."