Irak — Iraqis Ready for U.S. Drawdown, Odierno Says

WASHINGTON — Iraq’s gov­ern­ment and secu­ri­ty forces have improved to the point that the com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq says he is com­fort­able draw­ing down to 50,000 U.S. troops there by Sep­tem­ber.

Army Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no, who out­lined the improved sit­u­a­tion in Iraq dur­ing a Pen­ta­gon press brief­ing today, said U.S. forces are ahead of sched­ule on the draw­down there.

“I can’t overem­pha­size how much Iraqi Secu­ri­ty Forces have improved. That’s what’s dif­fer­ent today from a year ago,” Odier­no told reporters. “I think it’s the right time to go to 50,000 and it’s my assess­ment that they can pro­vide the secu­ri­ty nec­es­sary for the gov­ern­ment for­ma­tion to be com­plet­ed.”

U.S. and Iraqi forces have dis­man­tled al-Qai­da in Iraq’s lead­er­ship, Odier­no said, hav­ing cap­tured or killed 34 of the ter­ror­ist group’s top 42 lead­ers in the past three months. The al-Qai­da in Iraq insur­gency appears to have lost con­nec­tion with their coun­ter­parts in Afghanistan and Pak­istan and is strug­gling to rebuild, the gen­er­al said. The Iraq-based ter­ror group con­tin­ues to take cred­it for vio­lence in Iraq and it makes oth­er claims “so that peo­ple think they are still legit­i­mate,” the four-star gen­er­al said.

Still, Odier­no said, U.S. and Iraqi forces can­not become com­pla­cent, and U.S. forces are work­ing to ensure Iraqi forces can sus­tain secu­ri­ty gains after U.S. troops leave Iraq in 2011. “I will nev­er take my eyes off al-Qai­da,” he said. “We will always watch them.”

Mean­while, Iran con­tin­ues to be “very much involved in Iraq,” Odier­no said, despite its pub­lic state­ments to the con­trary, by launch­ing rock­et attacks and train­ing insur­gents. How­ev­er, all indi­ca­tions are that this year’s vio­lence in Iraq has been the low­est lev­el since 2003, Odier­no said. “Every sta­tis­tic con­tin­ues to go in the right direc­tion,” he added.

Even after the cur­rent 88,000 U.S. troops in Iraq decrease to 50,000, Odier­no said he’s con­fi­dent that Iraq’s 250,000 sol­diers and more than 500,000 police can main­tain the improved secu­ri­ty. “I feel very com­fort­able with where we’re at right now,” he said.

Iraqi forces have improved efforts to col­lect and use human intel­li­gence, and U.S. forces are work­ing with them to improve tech­nol­o­gy-based intel­li­gence, Odier­no said. “It has proven a lot to us that they are more and more ready to take over,” he said.

While some sec­tar­i­an strife con­tin­ues between Iraq’s eth­nic groups, the gen­er­al said, Iraqi lead­ers have shown a will­ing­ness to reach out to all groups, and the polit­i­cal cli­mate is improv­ing. Polit­i­cal progress was slowed by the close results of Iraq’s nation­al elec­tion in March, but Odier­no said the process was impor­tant in that it fol­lowed Iraq’s con­sti­tu­tion and reflect­ed the electorate’s wish­es. With a recount dif­fer­ence of 0.1 per­cent from ini­tial results, he said, “it was clear­ly a legit­i­mate and cred­i­ble elec­tion.” As the result of the elec­tion, only 20 per­cent of Iraqi Par­lia­ment mem­bers will return when the new body is seat­ed lat­er this month, Odier­no said.

The U.S. draw­down is pro­gress­ing ahead of sched­ule, with more than 600,000 con­tain­ers and 18,000 wheeled vehi­cles already moved out of Iraq, Odier­no said. The Unit­ed States occu­pies 126 bases in Iraq – down from 500 last year – and plans to be down to 94 by Sept. 1, he said.

“The next three-to-four months will set the tone for the next three-to-four years of Iraq’s direc­tion,” Odier­no said. “There still will be bad days in Iraq; there still will be vio­lent ele­ments. And we will con­tin­ue to work with the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces to sta­bi­lize inside Iraq.”

Odier­no is sched­uled to rotate out of Iraq at the end of sum­mer to be replaced by Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, staff direc­tor for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma has nom­i­nat­ed Odier­no to com­mand U.S. Joint Forces Com­mand, based in Nor­folk, Va.

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