Iraqi soldiers stand at attention and salute while the Iraqi and U.S. national anthems are played. The soldiers were present for the transfer of authority ceremony from the 18th Airborne Corps to I Corps.
WASHINGTON (April 9, 2009) – American forces in Iraq continue to transfer more responsibilities to the Iraqi government and their security forces as part of the security agreement that went into effect on Jan. 1, a Multi-National Force - Iraq general said Wednesday.
“Our combat forces will be out of the cities by June,” Army Maj. Gen. David Perkins, the command’s director of strategic effects, said during a “DoD Live” bloggers roundtable. “That doesn’t mean we won’t operate in those cities, but we will not be basing our combat forces in the cities.”
Since Jan. 1, U.S. forces have transitioned more than 40 bases, areas and facilities to Iraqi control.
“At the request of the Iraqis, [we] will conduct operations generally by, with and through the Iraqis,” he said. “We continue to do our assessment as to the capability of the Iraqi security forces as we adjust our forces on the ground and they fill in some of the areas where we leave.”
Perkins described the situation as “an ongoing process of reassessment and readjustment.”
The transfer of responsibility to the Iraqi security forces has posed some recent challenges, the general acknowledged.
“In the last couple of days, unfortunately, we have had a series of high-profile attacks,” he said. “The good news is the response has been one of universal condemnation. You have not had the retribution killings, which a year and a half ago is what would have happened.”
When attacks do take place, officials focus on the sustained level of attacks, the time between attacks, and more importantly, the response of the Iraqi people, Perkins said.
“If they universally – all ethno-sectarian groups – soundly reject it, then it means al-Qaida has failed in their attempt to start ethno-sectarian violence,” Perkins said. “The sustained level is down 90 percent from its height.”
The time between attacks is important because it provides coalition and Iraqi forces with insight into al-Qaida’s capability to sustain a high tempo of violence, he explained. “About a year ago, the average time between high-profile attacks was 1.9 days,” Perkins said. “Last month, our average was 3.8.”
Perkins also explained that al-Qaida used to be able to sustain a high number of attacks when 50 to 60 terrorists crossed into Iraq each day. But that number has shrunk to three or four a week, he said.
With foreign fighters increasingly being blocked from entering Iraq, Perkins said, al-Qaida has had to turn inward to do its recruiting.
“They tend to go after more vulnerable aspects of society, and therefore, we have seen a dramatic rise in female suicide bombers,” he said.
While security responsibility is being transferred to the Iraqis, some issues within the government need to be addressed, Perkins said. The Iraqi government has yet to pass a budget, but officials are working through political challenges to mend the issue.
“When they initially put the budget forth, oil was $140 a barrel, and it’s now $40 a barrel,” Perkins said. “So that dramatic reduction in income obviously has a huge impact, since oil is 95 percent of their budget.”
Even though the Iraqi government has yet to pass a budget, the officials have found a way to pay for the “Sons of Iraq” civilian security groups formerly financed by coalition funds, Perkins added. The Council of Ministers put together a fairly elaborate process of transferring money from one ministry to another and then writing checks in the cash-based Iraqi economy, the general said.
“So while they were late in the payments, while they created some frustration out there, they have sort of gone to extraordinary financial and bureaucratic measures to uphold their responsibilities to the Sons of Iraq,” he added.
Though they face many challenges, Perkins said, he believes the Iraqis are taking the necessary steps to become fully sustainable.
“There are a number of challenges, but the Iraqis are working very hard to step up to the plate,” he said.