By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, July 21, 2006 – Large-scale sectarian violence as displayed by Sunnis and Shiites in Baghdad has seemingly bypassed Nineveh province in northern Iraq, a U.S. military commander told Pentagon reporters today. "We have been fortunate in that we've not seen that level of sectarian violence in Nineveh province," said Col. Michael Shields, commander of the U.S. Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
Shields gives credit for this positive state of affairs to the efforts of Gov. Duraid Mohammed Daud Abbodi Kashmoula and the senior Iraqi military and police officials serving in the province. "They have great outreach to the district and sub-district level," Shields said. The 172nd SBCT is home-based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Shields and his contingent of "Arctic Wolves" have been deployed to Iraq for about 10 months.
Shields said his command is a 4,400-member joint-force unit that includes U.S. sailors and airmen as well as soldiers. The 172nd SBCT operates primarily in the Mosul area, he said, and is responsible for training Iraqi soldiers and police, as well as security missions. It was not always so quiet in Shields' area-of-operations. In the fall of 2004, the Iraqi police force in Nineveh province "had collapsed," he noted, and a state of general lawlessness had extended over Mosul.
The Iraqi police had been routed and there was no viable Iraqi National Guard available, Shields said, so the coalition forces "shouldered the responsibility" for security in Mosul. However, the capabilities of Iraqi security forces based in Nineveh province greatly improved since the winter of 2004, Shields said.
And today, "the provincial police and Iraqi army have improved the security situation here in Nineveh," Shields continued, noting they've "been able to keep a good amount of the sectarian violence out of the province." The insurgents have been unable to regain a foothold in Nineveh province since 2004, Shields said, primarily because of the steady street presence of Iraqi police and soldiers.
Shields said the insurgents also have failed to disrupt the continued partnering, training and advising occurring between coalition troops and Iraqi police and soldiers. "One of the strengths of the security forces here in Nineveh," Shields pointed out, "is that Iraqi police and the Iraqi army are working better together."
That bond has produced more capable Iraqi soldiers and police, Shields said, which has also elevated the Iraqi forces' ability to lead combined operations rather than to just participate. In fact, the Iraqi security forces have become such a threat to insurgent operations in Nineveh province, Shields said, that the insurgents are likely to increase their attacks against the Iraqi security forces. Meanwhile, "we'll to continue to partner with and train them, make them more capable in the counterinsurgency -- and more lethal," Shields said.