By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 2, 2009 - It's "so far, so good" in Iraq since U.S. combat forces withdrew from the country's cities and towns, the commander of Multinational Force Iraq said yesterday. "It's going fine -- no problem at all," Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said on the PBS program "Newshour With Jim Lehrer."
Iraqi troops and police are manning checkpoints and stations by themselves, the general added.
Baghdad and Kirkuk have seen bomb attacks, but Iraqi forces have been able to handle the situations, Odierno told news anchor Judy Woodruff. U.S. forces have been moving out of the cities and towns for months. June 30 was the deadline under the U.S.-Iraq status of forces agreement for all coalition forces to leave the cities.
American forces continue to work with Iraqi security forces, the general said, and 131,000 U.S. servicemembers are in Iraq. "We have U.S. forces in joint coordination centers all over Iraq, inside of the cities, and they are there doing training, advising, assisting, and they also are coordinating with the Iraqis," Odierno said.
The relationships between Iraqi and American forces at all levels are key to good communications, Odierno said, and if the Iraqis need help, a process is in place for U.S. forces to provide it.
American advisory and coordination cells are still in the cities, the general said, but in small numbers "and they're not related to combat formations, such as brigades and battalions."
American combat forces now are in the belts surrounding the cities. These belts often are the area where terrorists set up support bases for operations inside the cities. "We occupy those key areas to provide security and stability, which will make it more difficult for freedom of movement of the insurgent and extremist organizations," Odierno explained.
The number of violent incidents in Iraq is up over the last 10 days, the general said. "But when I look at security incidents around the country, they're still very low," he added. In fact, the past month saw the fewest violent incidents since the Iraqis began keeping records, he noted.
Still, terror groups are conducting attacks, and they are hoping to attract recruits. The Iraqi people have not reacted to this terror offensive. "We see no signs of return to sectarian violence," Odierno said. "We see all the right comments being made by the leadership."
The Iraqi security forces are up to the challenge, the general told Woodruff. "They have been in the fight," he said. "They have been working very closely with our forces. We've had a close partnership with them. We have seen a great improvement in the leadership. We've seen great improvement in their will and their ability to fight."
Problems still exist with logistics and air support, and U.S. forces will continue to work with the Iraqi army and police to make up those shortfalls and build those capabilities, Odierno said.
"By and large, their army units are performing well," he said. "They have eliminated much of the sectarian issues they had in 2006. They continue to work that. We believe they continue to make progress. We think we need to be with them for a couple more years, as is outlined in the security agreement, and we think, as we continue to move forward, they will continue to improve, and they'll be able to do what we think is necessary."