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Iraqis need a year to control Baghdad, U.S. general says

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New York Times: The No. 2 American commander in Iraq said Tuesday that Iraqi security forces would need most of next year before they were capable of providing security for the entire capital, Baghdad. The New York Times

By THOM SHANKER
Published: October 3, 2007

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 — The No. 2 American commander in Iraq said Tuesday that Iraqi security forces would need most of next year before they were capable of providing security for the entire capital, Baghdad.

The commander, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, emphasized that the increase in American troops over recent months had shown substantial results, putting “extreme pressure” on foreign terrorists operating in Iraq.

In comments at the National Press Club here, General Odierno, who is in charge of day-to-day combat operations in Iraq, acknowledged that “it is going to take more time to make the Iraqi security forces self-reliant, and some challenges remain.”

He said that Iraqi forces still could not provide their own logistics and lacked qualified commanders, and that “there is still some sectarianism” in the Iraqi military’s ranks, although he expressed confidence that the government in Baghdad was working to quell disloyalty.

He said the initial goal for the capital was for American forces to move to what is called “tactical overwatch,” in which security operations would be left up to Iraqis with Americans able to respond and assist “in a very short period of time.” But that, he said, would take most of next year to achieve.

The five additional combat brigades ordered to Iraq this year by President Bush are to be withdrawn by next summer, reducing the number back to 15, but many Democrats and Republicans have called for the Iraqis to take over the security mission from American troops sooner.

Referring to the organization that calls itself Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the general said: “Their ability to conduct operations has been significantly reduced. I think they’re under very significant pressure.” The organization is a homegrown Sunni extremist group that American intelligence officials say is foreign-led.

But he cautioned: “We have not yet eliminated them. And I believe if we don’t continue to do that, they could reconstitute at some time.”

The flow of weapons from Iran, including mortars and advanced roadside bombs, increased significantly in April, May, June and July, he added. There has been a slight decrease over the past couple of months, but the level of assistance from Iran remains worrisomely high, he said.

Additional forces, mostly Iraqi, have been placed along the Iranian border, he said.

As security conditions show improvement, General Odierno said, he is focusing on how to improve municipal services to Iraqis nationwide. The American military in Iraq could be able to assist public works programs if Congress approves a doubling of a fund controlled by United States military commanders to $1 billion from $500 million. That proposal is now on Capitol Hill.

“I consider it a way to supplement the money that’s now being invested by the government of Iraq itself into their own reconstruction,” General Odierno said. “In the past, it was a Band-Aid because the government of Iraq was not spending that money, but they now are, which is a positive sign.”

The commanders’ fund also allows the American military to support public-works projects that may be ignored by the central government. Sunnis in Anbar Province, for example, have complained that they have not received a fair portion of money from Shiite leaders in Baghdad.

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