By Seaman William Selby, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 28, 2008 - Iraqi security forces and government ministries have made vast improvements in the past year, a senior U.S. Army official in Iraq said yesterday. "We really are seeing an improvement in the security situation here in Iraq, and we're taking every opportunity to leverage and maximize the potential of that security," Army Col. Michael Fuller, Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq's chief of staff, said in a conference call with online journalists and "bloggers."
Fuller said his command is working with the Iraqi ministries of Defense and Interior to help to generate, sustain and replenish the Iraqi security forces.
"We take on trying to improve the performance of the two security ministries in just the way they go about managing and resourcing the Iraqi security forces," Fuller explained.
Indicative of the security forces' improvement, Fuller said, the Iraqi army recently moved two brigades to Basra province to battle insurgents. "The Iraqis planned, coordinated it, and executed that move on their own," Fuller said. "This is just an indicator that the Iraqis are beginning to be able to step up to the plate and execute operations on their own."
In addition to improving the security situation in Iraq, Fuller said, the "surge" strategy implemented last year has allowed coalition forces to spend more time training and recruiting Iraqi security forces.
The coalition has generated almost 124,000 new Iraqi soldiers, sailors, airmen and police officers this year, Fuller said. "We went out on the street; we recruited folks; we put them through the training phase; we equipped them; we armed them; we put them in units out there; and then we deployed them to where they needed to be," he explained.
Fuller added that coalition forces will continue to build the remainder of the Iraqi counterinsurgency force so it can continue to secure areas where coalition forces are pulling out.
The colonel also recognized the "Sons of Iraq" -- concerned local citizens who help with security efforts -- for their contributions.
"Right now we've got about 80,000 Sons of Iraq that have signed up," he said. "Many of them are not qualified physically to join the Iraqi security forces, but they're extremely helpful when it comes to pointing out who might be al Qaeda, or (an Iranian-backed) 'special group' member, or a plain old criminal that's been planting (roadside bombs) or caching arms and munitions."
Though the Iraqis are making significant progress, Fuller acknowledged, three problems need to be addressed: logistics, leadership and sectarianism.
"Logistics will be a big focus item for us this year," Fuller said. He said plans call for all divisions in the Iraqi army and police to develop an associated logistics support unit this year that will handle all of their classes of supply, their maintenance, and their life-support issues. "That really gets us at the tactical level in solving some of the logistics problems," he said.
Fuller also addressed the lack of leadership inherent in building security forces from scratch. "When you grow forces this quickly, finding qualified and experienced leaders to lead these men into battle and women into battle is a challenge that we will continue to work through," the colonel said.
Sectarianism will continue to be a problem for the Iraqis for generations, Fuller said, because there is no easy fix for something so deeply rooted in a culture.
While the public can look at every statistic and tell that the security situation has improved significantly, Fuller emphasized, the war is far from over.
"There's a fight that's still going on," Fuller said. "There is still an insurgency here that is alive and well, that has got a number of terrorist groups that we're still going to have to help our Iraqi partners deal with."
(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)