By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 16, 2007 – The Multinational Corps Iraq commander said he does not envision a scenario that would require more U.S. troops in Iraq. Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told reporters traveling with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace that the coalition and Iraqi forces are making significant progress in the country.
"Since January 2007, we have seen a significant increase in Iraqis rejecting al Qaeda," Odierno said.
The movement started in Qaim in western Iraq and followed the Euphrates River Valley to Baghdad, he said.
"We're seeing people coming to us and wanting to help," the general said. "We're seeing Iraqi citizens wanting to reconcile with the government, wanting to reconcile with us. We are seeing true military progress."
However, he said he is afraid the coalition will not have time to finish the job militarily. "I think what we have to do is give an assessment back to Congress and the president that says this is how much time we need in Iraq before we can think about reducing the size of our force in Iraq," Odierno said.
"I think the long-term threat to Iraq is al Qaeda, and that has never changed," he said.
But, he added, sectarian violence is down, partly because of actions against al Qaeda and the Shiia extremist group Jaysh al-Mahdi.
"We believe that sectarian violence is no longer the No. 1 threat we have," Odierno said. "We're now focused again on eliminating al Qaeda as a threat to the government of Iraq and the future of Iraq."
Coalition and Iraqi forces have cleared and are holding more than 50 percent of Baghdad. Troops are going into and staying in neighborhoods that previously had no coalition presence. "The surge and the additional forces we have available to us has enabled us to go into these areas," he said.
Odierno said the al Qaeda leadership is disrupted, and the country is becoming inhospitable to the terror group. The group's area of operations is shrinking, he said. Foreign fighters coming in via Syria are being so boxed in that there are reports they turn around and leave.
Iran continues to be a problem, because the country continues to support Shiia extremists with money, training and equipment, Odierno said. "In fact, we are seeing some indicators that they may be increasing their support here leading up to September for the Shiia extremists trying to influence the outcome in Iraq," he said.
The general said he has received reports that Iran is trying to ship more explosively formed projectiles, the most deadly form of improvised explosive device, into Iraq. He also said he has intelligence that Iraqi operatives are training with Iran's Quds Force.
Finally, Odierno said he is very proud of the way American servicemembers are operating in Iraq. The temperature is well over 110 degrees, but they are taking the temperature in stride and operating with enormous professionalism, he said.