By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 10, 2008 - Since Anbar province returned to Iraqi control, Iraqi security forces are taking more responsibility and U.S. Marines in western Iraq are increasingly performing an overwatch role, the deputy commander of Multinational Force West said today. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Martin Post, briefing Pentagon correspondents by satellite from Fallujah, said a very few foreign fighters are trying to infiltrate the country, and Iraqi forces are in the lead in trying to stop them.
The coalition leadership in Anbar province has been pleased "across the board" with Iraqi security forces, the general said. "We're most happy with the Iraqi army," he added. The Iraqi 1st and 7th divisions are based in the province.
Both divisions are so well-trained they are being used as force providers for other areas in the country. Division units are being used in Baghdad, Diyala province, Basra and Mosul. Post said about 60 percent of the Iraqi divisions from Anbar are actually working outside the province now, and "they are acquitting themselves very well."
The Iraqi police also are coming along. The general said the force is maturing and reaching the size and expertise needed to fulfill the duties of police as people in the west would see that role. Roughly 28,000 police officers serve in the province, up from 11,000 two years ago.
"They are making great strides," Post said. "Since we've turned over the security portfolio, ... we've seen them continue to prosper. And in some cases here just recently, they've asked us to continue to take a step back."
Border guards finish up the security triumvirate. "As we see it, that's really the last piece of the [Iraqi security forces] that needs the increased strength ... here in Anbar province," Post said.
The Marines are working to improve training standards for the border police and their logistics and sustainability capacity. "They're really the first line of defense here, when you're talking about whether it either be smuggling or foreign fighters or insurgents trying to get back and forth across the border," he said.
Entry control points in and around Ramadi and Fallujah now are exclusively the domain of the Iraqi police, for example. Marine units have all but pulled out of the cities in the province, and are in an oversight role with the Iraqis in the lead.
"We were waiting for the Iraqis to step forward and say, 'Hey, we have this and we've got it,'" he said. "We're very happy with the continued trends we see with the Iraqi police." Marine trainers continue to work with the Iraqi police, but even that number has dropped, Post noted.
This attitude is evident in normal operations. "Previously, if there was a [roadside bomb] event in Fallujah or Ramadi, they would call us first, and we would respond to it," Post said. Now, the Iraqis respond to incidents, he said.
In yet another sign of progress, the Marines are moving their headquarters out of Camp Fallujah to Al Asad Air Base farther west. Multinational Force West has reduced its ground forces by an Army brigade combat team and three Marine battalions. "We feel real comfortable right now here, at the end of 2008, with ... our force posture here on the ground," the general said.
Coalition forces in the command dropped from 34,000 at the height of the surge to 26,000 today. "We feel comfortable with that," the general said.
What happens next depends on the status of forces agreement between the United States and Iraq, Post said, explaining that military planners need to see what the final agreement will be before they can assess the way forward.
Post said the situation in the province is not fragile. Al-Qaida is marginalized in the province, he said, and the people of the province do not want them back.
"We have incidents out here where we believe [al-Qaida] is still trying to inject themselves when and where they can, and we stay very heavily engaged on that," he said.