Irak — Iraq Security Landscape Changes Bode Well for Transition

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2010 — The times are chang­ing in Iraq, and they’re chang­ing quick­ly.
While Amer­i­can troops draw down and their mis­sion comes to an end, the Iraqi gov­ern­ment and U.S. State Depart­ment are prepar­ing to take the reins on their respec­tive roles in Iraq’s future.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Lan­za, spokesman for U.S. Forces-Iraq, joined jour­nal­ists on a DoDLive Blog­gers round­table to answer ques­tions and clar­i­fy the posi­tion of the U.S. mil­i­tary dur­ing its tran­si­tion out of Iraq.

“Iraq is in a peri­od of tran­si­tion … we’re in a peri­od of tran­si­tion … the gov­ern­ment is in a peri­od of tran­si­tion,” Lan­za said. “We under­stand that the secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment is chang­ing. Vio­lence is as low as we’ve seen since 2004.”

Lan­za added that Iraq now is 85 per­cent more secure than it was in 2007 at the peak of the “surge” of 20,000 addi­tion­al U.S. troops that helped to damp­en insur­gent-com­mit­ted vio­lence in Bagh­dad and Al Anbar province.

Cur­rent­ly, the major­i­ty of com­bat oper­a­tions in Iraq are led by Iraqi forces, with Amer­i­can troops act­ing in an advi­so­ry sup­port role. Lan­za said Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces have “grown and matured” and are con­duct­ing very sophis­ti­cat­ed mis­sions against al-Qai­da near Tikrit.

“We con­tin­ue the strate­gic part­ner­ship with them to increase their capac­i­ty, but more impor­tant­ly to make sure that we devel­op them into a pro­fes­sion­al force capa­ble of pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty for the Iraqi peo­ple,” Lan­za said. “We have seen their capa­bil­i­ty increase, and with that we main­tain our pos­ture for our respon­si­ble draw­down.”

The cur­rent strat­e­gy calls for all but 50,000 U.S. troops to leave Iraq by Sep­tem­ber of this year; the remain­ing troops will be mov­ing from a com­bat mis­sion to a sus­tain­ment and sta­bil­i­ty mis­sion in part­ner­ship the Iraqi gov­ern­ment in August.

“We con­tin­ue to work with the embassies, agen­cies and oth­er ele­ments here of the U.S. gov­ern­ment, and also of oth­er gov­ern­ments and [non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions], in order to facil­i­tate the strate­gic frame­work agree­ment in the future — more impor­tant­ly, to devel­op Iraq and their capa­bil­i­ties into a secure, sta­ble and sov­er­eign nation,” Lan­za said.

Though news reports still are pep­pered fair­ly reg­u­lar­ly with sto­ries about attacks or fight­ing break­ing out in Iraq, Lan­za says the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion has improved vast­ly over the past few years. He added that the attacks, some of which tar­get mosques, were like­ly meant to incite sec­tar­i­an vio­lence, and in that regard, they’ve been unsuc­cess­ful.

“While there have been sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges, and some­times we have had these attacks and spikes in civil­ian casu­al­ties, I would acknowl­edge that if you look at it in the con­text of over­all secu­ri­ty, we are still on a much bet­ter road and a bet­ter way ahead than we have in the past few years,” Lan­za said.

Fol­low­ing the recent report­ed killing of two top al-Qai­da-in-Iraq lead­ers, Abu Ayyub al-Mas­ri and Abu Umar al-Bagh­da­di, the insur­gent group is in a state of tur­moil. Attacks are less suc­cess­ful, less sophis­ti­cat­ed, and Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces are prov­ing to be a strong adver­sary.

“There’s been tremen­dous pres­sure put on the al-Qai­da net­work in the past few years, to the point that al-Qai­da has frac­tured into three dif­fer­ent groups,” Lan­za said.

Oppor­tunists will fol­low and work with al-Qai­da, in essence, to make a quick buck, Lan­za said. Some peo­ple sim­ply see the ter­ror­ist group as a source of income. Nation­al­ists who want to see a regime change in Iraq look to al-Qai­da and oth­er insur­gent groups as rev­o­lu­tion­ary enti­ties. Ide­alogues, the true believ­ers, still exist, but in few­er num­bers than before, Lan­za said.

“Iraq does con­tin­ue to move for­ward, there will con­tin­ue to be chal­lenges,” he said. “As our mis­sion con­tin­ues, it’s our goal and our desire to con­tin­ue to build capa­bil­i­ty and capac­i­ty of the ISF … we want to ensure that the con­di­tions are set here for a long-term rela­tion­ship here between the U.S. and Iraq.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)