By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 10, 2008 - The Iraqi security forces' increasing capabilities have been making a world of difference in the country, a top coalition military commander said today. Army Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, commander of Multinational Division Center, briefed Pentagon reporters from Baghdad via teleconference along with Maj. Gen. Ali Salih Farhgood Oothman, commander of 8th Iraqi Army Division.
Oates, who served in Iraq twice before, said he has noticed three distinct changes from his last assignment in the country in 2006.
"The first is the security situation is much improved," he said. "It's indisputable that the number of attacks [is] phenomenally low."
The second change is the improvements in the capabilities, competence and initiative of the Iraqi security forces. He said he is particularly impressed by how fast the Iraqis have learned.
The most significant difference Oates said he has seen is that the Iraqi government is taking action to address the basic needs of its population.
Oothman's unit is an example of the progress the Iraqi army has made. The 8th Division has responsibility for five Iraqi provinces and is taking on "special groups" trained by Iran and al-Qaida in Iraq. The division also has responsibility for the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. The command stretches from the Iranian border to the West Desert.
"The challenge we do face in general in the whole Iraqi army is the logistics and the supplies and the administrative work," Oothman said through a translator. "For instance, we don't have any medic facilities or hospitals where we could take our injured or killed people to. We don't have the garages or the shops to fix and maintain our vehicles, especially the Humvees."
Oates said the main work for Multinational Division Center is to continue to improve the professionalism of the Iraqi security forces. "Since it has been formed, this army has been fighting," Oates said. "They do not have the luxury we do of going to schools. We hope to go back and rework some of these areas.
This means institutional training. "They've had the basic combat training and then were put right into combat," Oates noted.
A U.S. Army lieutenant colonel has probably returned to the schoolhouse at least three times. This keeps the officer up to date on the latest doctrine, tactics and sharing with partners. The Iraqis have not had that luxury. Oates said he will work on this to include training in planning, logistics, fire support and other areas.
The division also will coach local governments in practical civics, Oates said, to help the local councils understand their population's needs and how to go about funding programs to address those needs.
The division also must continue to kill or capture extremist leaders and al-Qaida operatives, the general said, and its soldiers stand ready to assist Iraqi security forces in ensuring the scheduled fall elections are safe and secure.
Oates said the division works well with the Iraqi National Police, but he acknowledged that some local police forces need improvement. "The [national police] were a major force in this recent operation in Amarah," he said. "The Iraqi police locally -- in each of the outlying small towns and villages -- still require a great degree of training and professionalism. They are probably the least capable of the Iraqi security forces at this point."