By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 27, 2009 - The security situation in southern Iraq is stable, and American and Iraqi commanders said they expect security gains in the region to continue. Army Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, the commander of Multinational Division South, and Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz, the commander of the 14th Iraqi Division, briefed the Pentagon press from the banks of the Shatt al-Arab near Basra today.
The two men praised the military cooperation in the region, and said the U.S-Iraqi partnerships will allow them to work through any issues that may arise.
"We share the same goals of safety and security for all the Iraqi people," Nash said.
About 14,000 American troops are in the nine southern Iraqi provinces. Basra is the hub of the area and is the second-largest city in the country.
The Americans' continuing mission is to support the Iraqi security forces as they increase their capabilities, to build civil capacity, to improve the lives of Iraq's citizens and to set the conditions for a full transition to Iraq.
The Iraqi forces are stepping to the line. "All Iraqis can be proud of the professionalism and the courage of the Iraqi security forces, which include the Iraqi police, the department of border enforcement and the Iraqi army," Nash said.
Aziz praised the cooperation and training of the American forces. "By working with our American friends in some areas, such as logistics and training, and with our internal partners in all matters of local security, we are achieving very good results here in our beautiful Basra," the general said.
The Americans have helped train both the Iraqi army and police, and that is allowing the two forces to work closely together.
"Many of our checkpoints are now manned jointly by members of both Iraqi forces," Aziz said. "The training both sides have received and the trust built between them has been very positive."
The general said he is confident that his forces will continue to maintain and improve on the security gains of the past year. He said the "positive trend and direction cannot be turned back by criminals or terrorists."
Nash said there has been an uptick in violence in the northwest area of his division - around Babil and Karbala.
"We're looking into an [al-Qaida in Iraq] connection and Sunni extremist groups that possibly could be causing strife up there, tried to get sectarian violence started again," Nash said. "But at this point, the Shia in the south have been able to resist that urge to reach violent levels again, as has been done in the past, in 2006 and 2007."
Nash said the Iraqi forces have been doing a good job in stopping Iranian operatives and influence along the border.
"Major General Aziz and I work very closely together here in Basra, sharing information and sharing intelligence here at the Basra Operations Center, through our 17th Fires Brigade," he said. "We track those extremist networks that tend to do harm here in southern Iraq, want to influence the Iraqi government, that will bring lethal aid into Iraq to do harm, whether it's here in Basra or up through the Euphrates Valley up into Baghdad."