Odierno: Iraqi Forces Ready for Security Challenges

WASHINGTON — Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces are on track to assume full oper­a­tions and pre­pared to deal with spates of vio­lence by extrem­ists intent on derail­ing Iraqi progress, the com­man­der of U.S. forces in Iraq said this morn­ing.

U.S. forces have been “slow­ly and delib­er­ate­ly turn­ing more and more respon­si­bil­i­ty” over to Iraqi mil­i­tary and police forces over the past 20 months, Army Gen. Ray­mond Odier­no told Chris­tiane Aman­pour on ABC’s “This Week.”

“They have stepped up,” con­duct­ing “broad-scoped oper­a­tions across all of Iraq,” Odier­no said.

Odier­no called inci­dents of vio­lence in Iraq, includ­ing an attack yes­ter­day in Bas­ra that report­ed­ly killed at least 43 peo­ple, last-ditch efforts by extrem­ists intent on derail­ing progress.

“What we can’t do is over­re­act to inci­dents,” he said. “There are going to be inci­dents that occur here. There is a lev­el of vio­lence and a lev­el of ter­ror­ism here that is going to occur.”

Con­ced­ing the “ups and downs” in Iraq, Odier­no con­trast­ed the vio­lent “dark days of 2006 and 2007” to the sit­u­a­tion on the ground today. Al-Qai­da in Iraq has been great­ly dimin­ished, par­tic­u­lar­ly with­in the past six or sev­en months, and finds it increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to oper­ate, he said.

“What I see is a broad change in the secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment here,” Odier­no said. “How­ev­er, there are still groups out there con­duct­ing ter­ror­ist acts against the peo­ple of Iraq. And they are doing this to stop the polit­i­cal way for­ward – to stop the polit­i­cal process mov­ing for­ward, to stop democ­ra­cy mov­ing for­ward and to cause the gov­ern­ment of Iraq not to move for­ward.”

Odier­no cred­it­ed Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces with main­tain­ing neu­tral­i­ty dur­ing delays in their government’s for­ma­tion and demon­strat­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ism as they con­duct broad-spec­trum oper­a­tions.

“I have seen no degra­da­tion in their abil­i­ty to exe­cute the secu­ri­ty pro­file,” he said. “That’s an extreme­ly pos­i­tive step for­ward for them, that they have con­tin­ued to oper­ate even … dur­ing this time of gov­ern­men­tal for­ma­tion.”

Odier­no expressed con­cern, how­ev­er, that extrem­ists might try to take advan­tage of a per­ceived vac­u­um with­in the Iraqi gov­ern­ment to regain lost ground.

Over the long term, strong Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces will pre­vent inter­fer­ence from oth­ers from out­side Iraq, he said. But in the mean­time, he offered assur­ance of con­tin­ued sup­port from the 50,000 U.S. troops to remain in Iraq after Sept. 1.

“We still have a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence here. And we will not allow undue malign influ­ence on the Iraqi gov­ern­ment as they attempt to form their gov­ern­ment,” he said. “What we are try­ing to do is pro­vide them the space and time for them to do that. And we will con­tin­ue to do that post-1 Sep­tem­ber.”

Odier­no expressed con­fi­dence that the Iraqis will make progress toward form­ing their gov­ern­ment by Sept. 1, but empha­sized that’s not the dri­ving force behind the draw­down timetable.

“Our num­bers are not linked to that for­ma­tion of the gov­ern­ment,” he said. “Our num­bers are linked to the capac­i­ty of the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces being able to sus­tain sta­bil­i­ty. And I think they are mov­ing toward that capac­i­ty.”

Ulti­mate­ly, the U.S. strat­e­gy for sup­port­ing Iraq isn’t about the num­ber of troops on the ground, Odier­no said. “It’s real­ly about how we con­tin­ue to sus­tain sta­bil­i­ty,” an effort that also extends to eco­nom­ic, diplo­mat­ic and polit­i­cal progress. “And I think we have a plan to do that beyond 1 Sep­tem­ber,” he said.

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

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