By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
April 10, 2008 - Iraqi security forces acquitted themselves well, in view of their relative inexperience, in recent fighting against terrorists and criminals in the southern part of the country, including Basra, as well as in parts of Baghdad, the top U.S. military officer in Iraq said here today. "The deployment was very impressive, ... certainly not something Iraqis could have done a year ago," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said during a conference call with military analysts.
At the end of March, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the rapid deployment of thousands of Iraqi security forces to Basra to confront illegal militias and criminal elements said to be operating there. The deployment touched off a spike of violence in that city that spread to Najaf, Karbala and southern Baghdad.
The Iraqi forces "did quite well" overall, Petraeus pointed out, although some were reported reluctant to participate. Incomplete Iraqi planning and coordination for the operation likely contributed to this, he said, noting some inexperienced infantry leaders were reported to have made hasty, ill-advised decisions while immersed in the fury of combat.
The "conditions [of battle] were not set, arguably, the way that they should have been before having dismounted infantry engage with the enemy," Petraeus explained. "That is hugely important."
The operations also highlighted the need to improve coordination and communications between Iraqi ground forces and their coalition air-to-ground support elements, the four-star general observed.
Still, the majority of Iraqi security forces -- especially the special operations units -- performed well in fighting against insurgents in Basra and other areas of the country, Petraeus emphasized.
The Iraqi forces performed visibly better "once there was a deliberate approach, if you will, where the conditions were set for each subsequent move," Petraeus said.
"I'm not sure I would have predicted that they could deploy as substantial a force as they did, as rapidly as they did -- at all," Petraeus said. On the other hand, he conceded, there are clearly areas -- including command-and-control systems -- that require improvement.
During his testimony yesterday before the House Armed Services Committee, Petraeus noted that Maliki's decision to send Iraqi troops into Basra and other parts of Iraq to put down violence perpetrated by illegal militias represents Iraqis' desire to attend to their internal affairs.
"That was not something that we pushed him to do," Petraeus told the committee. "That was something that they wanted to do."
Meanwhile, anti-insurgent operations in Basra continue, Petraeus reported, noting Iraqi security forces now have control of the city of Um Qasr, the country's main port. Um Qasr is a major conduit for the smuggling of weapons and contraband into Iraq, the general said.
"The operation is still very much an ongoing affair, and it will be, frankly, for months," Petraeus told the analysts.