By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 4, 2008 - Iraqi soldiers serving in their country's Salahuddin province demonstrate marked improvement compared to their performance two years ago, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said today. "Overall, I am very pleased" with the Iraqi troops' progress, Army Col. Scott McBride, commander of the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference.
McBride's unit is based in Tikrit, northwest of Baghdad in Salahuddin province. The 4,000-member brigade is a component of Multinational Division North, and it has been in Iraq for about a year.
Iraqi soldiers improved dramatically, McBride said, since his previous Iraq duty tour ended in September 2006. Four Iraqi brigades operate within his current area of operations, he said.
One Iraqi brigade that has been posted near the border with Diyala province over the past month has turned in distinguished service, the colonel said.
"They have been totally self-sustaining," McBride said of the Iraqi unit, noting it supplies itself independently and will pull duty in support of operations in Diyala province for another month.
"That brigade could fight on its own today," McBride pointed out. "They do not need us."
And although the Iraqi Army units posted in Salahuddin province are at different levels of development, each is "willing to fight, and all will fight," McBride asserted.
Meanwhile, Iraqi police in the province now have the equipment they need to do the job, McBride said. Continued development of the police force, he said, will depend on the quality of leadership within its ranks.
Security conditions in Salahuddin have improved, McBride said. Yet, he cautioned, there "is still an enemy out there" that presents a viable threat. There was "some pretty serious fighting" in the province just five months ago, he pointed out.
"So, I wouldn't advocate any drawdown, yet," McBride said. Iraqi officials in Salahuddin province, he noted, aren't eager for U.S. forces to depart.
"They'll tell you: 'We are not ready for you to leave. You need to stay. We're making progress. [But] it's not time,'" McBride said.