By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 25, 2007 – While Iraqi forces are progressing, it will take time before they are fully ready to shoulder the security burden, the man in charge of training Iraqi Army and police said today. (Video) Army Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard also said that one of the lessons of the war in Iraq is that the coalition must not "draw forces down too quickly when we think there's a glimmer of success."
Pittard is finishing up a year as the commander of the Iraq Assistance Group in Baghdad. He briefed Pentagon reporters via video teleconference. The Iraq Assistance Group is the executive agent for training all Iraqi security forces, including the Iraqi army, the national police, border police and facilities protection services.
The Iraqi security forces taking over battlespace will take time, Pittard said. Based on his experiences in this and previous deployments to Iraq, he said he thinks it will be a couple of years before Iraqi forces are able to fully take control of the security situation in the country.
"There are some areas though, and some provinces where the Iraqi security forces are in fact taking the lead," he said. The southern provinces of Maysan, Dhi Qar, Najaf and Muthanna are already under provincial Iraqi control, as are the majority Kurdish areas in the north - Dahuk, Irbil and Sulimaniyah.
The Iraqi army is further along in training than the Iraqi police, Pittard said, but even the police are making gains.
"This time last year, many people on the coalition side and in America were writing off the national police as just merely an arm of the Shiia militia, and over time we've seen quite a change with the national police," he said.
Iraqi leadership committed to rooting out sectarian bias has been key to that effort. Since October, Iraqi officials removed both national police division commanders and five of nine national police brigade commanders because of sectarian bias.
"This time last year, almost the entire command structure of the national police were, in fact, Shiia," Pittard said. The government reached out to the Sunni minority in the country and appointed Sunni commanders to many of the vacant positions, including nine or 10 of the 27 national police battalions.
The coalition also launched an aggressive training program in which an entire national police brigade based in Baghdad was taken off the battle line for four weeks of concentrated police and tactical training.
"We have seen some results, some very positive results, from that training," he said. "That was very painful for our operational plans in taking out an entire brigade, but it was well worth it in getting back a better-trained national police brigade."
Pittard compared and contrasted the Iraqi security forces of today with those of April 2004, when the Iraqi army and police virtually disintegrated in the face of the illegal militia.
"They had to be encouraged and pushed to fight (in 2004)," he said. "That is just not the case any more. The Iraqi army, in particular, is willing to fight. And they're fighting for a sovereign Iraq. They're not fighting for us, the coalition forces; they're fighting for Iraq. They're fighting for their people. And so that is a key difference."
But building Iraqi security forces with the logistical and support capabilities needed to maintain forces in the field will take time. "It'll take years," he said.