By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
March 12, 2007 – Iraqi security forces have made much progress in the past two years, transitioning from being coalition-driven to being a capable, competent force fighting for its own people, the commander of the Iraqi Assistance Group told reporters in Baghdad yesterday. "There was a period of time when coalition forces had to urge Iraqi forces to fight. That is not the case any more," Army Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard said at the Combined Press Information Center in the International Zone.
"They are not only capable of fighting, they want to fight for a sovereign Iraq. They are not fighting for the coalition forces. They are fighting for the Iraqi people," he said.
Pittard said the Iraqi army's capabilities are steadily increasing. Currently, eight of the 10 Iraqi army divisions are under Iraqi command. Six are under the command of the Iraqi Ground Forces Command, and two under the Baghdad Security Command. More than 125,000 Iraqis serve in the army.
While all 10 divisions are capable of fighting, some still lack in providing their own logistical support, Pittard said. Working through those issues will take more time, he said.
Problems with sectarian bias in Iraq's national police units also have turned around, he said. Key leaders were replaced, and the units underwent inspections and collective training, resulting in better cohesion.
When pressed by reporters for a time when all Iraqi units will be able to operate on their own, Pittard said the transition to self-reliance is "conditions-based" and cannot be pushed by a timeline. Successes over time build confidence for the Iraqi forces and, in turn, give the coalition forces confidence to turn over more control.
"It takes patience," he said. "Let's accomplish the mission first before we start talking about withdrawing."
Pittard oversees the embedded military transition teams that work with the Iraqi security forces until the units become self-reliant. About 500 11-person teams are embedded in the Iraqi forces at the battalion level and up.
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