By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 11, 2009 - Building a nation takes time, and progress shouldn't be measured through Western standards, a senior coalition commander said, referring to Iraq's future defense capabilities. "There have been some huge steps forward, but there are a number of areas that we are going to have to develop ... in the near future to actually understand and allow the government of Iraq to ... go forward as an independent nation," British army Brigadier Mark G. Lacey, deputy commanding general of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, told bloggers and online journalists March 9 during a "DoD Live" roundtable.
A significant challenge for the Iraqi government, along with most other nations, is the world recession, Lacey said.
"The government of Iraq is experiencing a number of significant challenges in 2009 ... with the drop in the price of oil; this has caused them a budget shortfall," Lacey said. "They are facing the same challenges which both the government of the United Kingdom and the government of the United States have to deal with as we go through this world recession."
Based on his five months in Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq and lengthy time spent in Iraq since 2003, Lacey said, he has seen firsthand the significant accomplishments the Iraqi government has made while dealing with the current economy.
"I think the Iraqis need to really be congratulated; they have made some huge strides," Lacey said. "I was here in 2003 commanding my regiment as part of the coalition, and since then we have subsequently seen a nation emerge."
This is evidence of the hard work and sacrifice of the Iraqis and the coalition, he said.
The development of the Iraqi armed forces has been a positive step forward. The Iraqis have established a force structure encompassing 14 divisions, he said.
"The Iraqis are looking at introducing a corps headquarters ... within their structure; this is part of a wider piece of work where the Iraqis are looking at the current structure they have and considering options about how they can use it more effectively," Lacey said.
"I don't think that they will be in a position to create a corps headquarters in 2009, but something will be developed in 2010 and beyond," he said.
Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq officials are working with the Iraqis to enable them to achieve the operational missions they increasingly are taking on, he said.
"That work will continue through 2009," he said.
The Iraqis also are focusing on external defense, such as building up their navy to protect the oil platforms and other tasks associated with a naval capability, including boarding and searching other ships entering Iraqi waters, he said.
"We are also developing an air force, which will in time be able to take on the air capability," Lacey said. "We have a road map that is starting to produce Iraqi pilots."
As the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces increase, the Iraqi government and the Interior Ministry will take in hand the internal security role.
"In time the army will be able to disengage and the Ministry of Interior will take on the responsibility for internal security within the country," Lacey said.
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg is assigned to the Defense Media Activity's Emerging Media directorate.)