By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
March 17, 2009 - Much progress has been achieved in Iraq, but there's still work to be done, a senior Pentagon spokesman said today while addressing that and other topics in a news conference. Although "enormous progress" in security has been made in Iraq, Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters, these gains "are still fragile," particularly in and around the northern Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.
However, southern Iraq, which includes the city of Basra, is experiencing "remarkable calm" and relative prosperity, Morrell said, while the capital of Baghdad now is "enjoying a period of stability" that it hasn't experienced since the start of the U.S.-coalition military campaign that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein six years ago.
Yet, although Iraq has witnessed considerable progress over the past months, Morrell said, no one in the U.S. defense establishment is ready to state that the war against insurgents in Iraq has been won.
"I think that the progress is obvious; it's undeniable," Morrell said. "But, I'm not so sure that words such as 'winning' or 'won' are necessary."
Events could occur that could reverse the positive trends seen in Iraq, he said.
Meanwhile, Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, is working with senior White House and Pentagon leaders to craft strategy for the way ahead, Morrell said, mindful that Iraq's district elections are slated for June, with the national election following in December.
The U.S. military effort in Iraq is now focused on presenting "enough of a force on the ground to deal with any contingency that may present itself," Morrell said.
Morrell also addressed a variety of other defense-related issues.
On the recent U.S. shoot-down of an Iranian drone aircraft:
The downing of the drone "shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody," Morrell said, adding that the unmanned Iranian aircraft was flying in Iraqi airspace, which is a violation of Iraq's sovereignty. Morrell said he didn't know whether the downed aircraft had been gathering reconnaissance information. The crash debris is being examined, he said.
Morrell said there's been no alarm in the Pentagon in reaction to recent news reports citing the Russian government's interest in boosting its military. Russia, he said, is "an independent, sovereign state, perfectly entitled to a robust self-defense." The United States and Russia also "enjoy a good military-to-military relationship," Morrell added.
On U.S. supply routes into Afghanistan:
"Our supply lines through Pakistan still serve us well," Morrell said. Meanwhile, U.S. military strategists "always have backups" in place or in the works to maintain supply lines and troop transport capabilities for Afghanistan, he said.