By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Aug. 30, 2006 – The primary threats to Iraq's security are terrorists and death squads, the coalition commander in the country said today, and both must be addressed if Iraq is going to progress. Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said the Iraqi people "aren't going to have the security that they want until the Iraqi security forces are the primary and dominant providers of security in the country. That won't happen until all militias and insurgents are disbanded."
Casey spoke to reporters this morning in Baghdad. He said the Iraqi security forces are developing and continue to evolve and that soon they will turn into "security forces that the Iraqi people can be proud of." The Iraqi forces are receiving the equipment they need to deal with the enemy they face, Casey said. But they will receive more armored vehicles, more aircraft and more logistical capabilities in the coming months.
Casey said that while he does not know when Iraqi forces will be able to take over the security mission, they'll be able to take on security missions with very little coalition support over the next year to 18 months. The coalition and Iraqi government have a three-step process to develop the security forces, he said. The first step involved recruiting and training the army and police. This included giving the soldiers and police the weapons and equipment they need.
"The second step was to put them into the lead, still with our support," Casey said. "When they're in the lead, they're responsible for the area, and we still help them. That process is almost 75 percent complete." The final step will be to get the forces to the stage where they can provide security independently. "That step becomes primarily building institutional capacity, building ministerial capacity and building the key enabling systems - logistics, intelligence, medical support, those kinds of things - that can support and sustain the armed forces in place for a longer period of time."
Casey stressed that the Iraqi army forces in Diwaniyah "acquitted themselves quite well" in fighting against militia forces in the city. "They had losses, but they gave much better than they got," he said. "And that battle is not finished yet. There were (Iraqi) soldiers that were killed there. There is clearly an illegal armed force that is attempting to control areas of Diwaniyah, and I believe that the Iraqi division commander down there is going to continue to work to restore Iraqi governmental control to that city."
Disarming the militias is key to success in Iraq, Casey said, noting that the militias have to be confronted both politically and militarily. He said dealing with the militias is "fairly sophisticated and delicate, but both those tracks have to be pursued if we're going to stand the militias down in an appropriate fashion."
The experience in Baghdad illustrates the way to take down the militias. "What we're seeing in Baghdad, as these neighborhoods are cleared, is the Iraqi security forces that go in and hold the security in those neighborhoods," he said. "I think when the people begin to feel more confidence in their security forces, they'll feel less need to rely on the militias." Militias are a problem, with some militias "no better than murdering, criminal gangs" that "flout the rule of law every day," Casey said. "Those need to be dealt with firmly by the government, because no government can stand to have criminal groups terrorizing their population."
Casey said he has great hopes for the establishment of the Iraqi ground force headquarters and joint headquarters, both to begin operations in the next few days. This will give Iraqi security forces the oversight from their government that has been missing, he said.
Casey praised the work of the soldiers of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Baghdad. He extended the brigade's tour of duty in Iraq for four months to help combat sectarian violence in the capital. "It puts our most capable force at the decisive point in the campaign, and that's what we needed," he said. "They are magnificent young men and women, and their families are also magnificent for the support that they give these solders. I know it was difficult for the families. These soldiers are making a decisive difference here on the ground in Baghdad."