By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2006 – Continual training with coalition forces has increased the capabilities of the Iraqi army and police in northern Iraq and allowed the local forces to take responsibility for more territory and work toward the future of the country, the U.S. commander in the area said today. "In an area of responsibility that exceeds 47,000 square miles, we have leveraged the full spectrum of assets in order to engage the population and neutralize the enemy," Army Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Turner, commander of Multinational Division North, said in a news conference via satellite from Iraq. "Iraqi security forces have taken the fight to the terrorists and insurgents throughout Multinational Division North. Numerous combined and increasingly Iraqi-only operations continue to disrupt the enemy's decision-making process and disrupt their freedom of movement."
A year ago, only one Iraqi army battalion was in the lead in the north, but today, 35 battalions, eight brigades and two divisions have assumed the lead and have been assigned an area of operations, Turner said. The majority of all operations in the region are led by the Iraqi army, he said, and the logistics and sustainment capabilities of the army are developing.
Now that the majority of the Iraqi army combat units are in the lead, the coalition is focused on building combat support and combat service support units, Turner said. When these units are fully established, they will provide critical support, such as logistics, transportation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, he said.
Iraqi police in northern Iraq also have made great improvements, although they are still behind the army in capabilities, Turner said. More than 31,000 police have been trained in the region, and by December, more than 43,000 should be trained and fully equipped, he said. Almost 100 police stations were constructed this year, and 30 more are under construction, he added.
"It was not so long ago that we saw Iraqi police either abandoning their post or throwing down their arms when attacked or confronted by the enemy," he said. "Today they are much stronger, and we continue to see progress."
Progress also is being made along Iraq's borders with Syria, Turkey and Iran, Turner said. As of today, 132 border forts have been built across the north, and seven points of entry along the eastern and western Iraqi borders have been upgraded, he said.
While developing the Iraqi security forces, coalition forces in the north also have reduced their presence, Turner said. In the past year, the coalition has gone from using 35 forward operating bases to 11, with the vacated bases being either closed or turned over to the Iraqi army or Iraqi government, he said.
Important challenges still lay ahead in Iraq, such as building trust across ethnic lines, defeating terrorists who promote sectarian conflict, establishing security and rule of law for all Iraqis, increasing economic growth to provide jobs, delivering essential services, and fighting corruption, Turner said. The key to the future is the development of the political process, which will allow the government to bring hope to the Iraqi people, who are ready to move beyond the country's violent past, he said.
"The majority of Iraqis are tired of the bloodshed, and this enemy presents no challenge that cannot be overcome," he said. "This was most evident after the horrific bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, where we saw the restraint of the Iraqi people in the face of massive provocation by those who respect nothing except their own destructive agenda for Iraq."