U.S. to let Iraqis recapture cities controlled by insurgents

Friday, September 10, 2004

The United States does not plan to capture cities under the control of Shi'ite or Sunni insurgents.

Officials said the Bush administration has decided to leave such a mission to Iraq's new military and security forces.

They include Faluja, Ramadi and Samara, and U.S. officials said they don't expect these cities to participate in national elections in January 2005.

They said the administration acknowledges that the Baghdad government could require another year until it was capable of battling Sunni and Shi'ite insurgents without the intervention of the U.S.-led coalition, Middle East Newsline reported.

But the Defense Department has concluded that some Iraqi military and security units could be ready for independent combat operations against insurgents by the end of 2004. So far, the central government in Baghdad lacks control of a range of cities, most of them in the Sunni Triangle.

"Part of that strategy is that Iraqi security forces must be properly equipped, trained and led to participate in these security operations, and then once it's over can sustain the peace in a given city," Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a briefing on Sept. 7.

"And while U.S. forces or coalition forces on their own can do just about anything we want to do, it makes a lot more sense that it be a sustained operation, one that can be sustained by Iraqi security forces."

Myers said he envisions an initial Iraqi effort to recapture cities under insurgency control in December 2004. He did not say whether the United States would participate in such missions on any level.

"By December, we're going to have a substantial number of Iraqi security forces equipped, trained and led to conduct the kind of operations I was talking about," Myers said.

Other officials said the Iraqi military and security units were as much as a year away from conducting major operations against Sunni and Shi'ite insurgents, with an estimated force level of 35,000. They said the United States was preparing to exclude several insurgency-controlled cities from Iraqi elections in January. Residents of those cities would be allowed to vote in so-called safe zones.

Still, the Pentagon has detected an improvement in the performance of Iraq's military and security forces. Officials said that over the last month, Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition forces have killed up to 2,500 insurgents in joint operations.

"Now is that a lot?" Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asked. "Yes. Does that hurt them? Yes. Is it a lot out of 25 million people in a country? No. Is the conflict, the offense being effectively waged? The answer, yes it is. Everywhere at once? No."

On Thursday, Iraqi and U.S. combat units launched a joint operation against insurgents in northern Iraq. Officials said the target was Tall Afar, an insurgency-controlled city regarded as the hub for Al Qaida-inspired insurgents who arrive from Syria to fight the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

In August, Iraqi forces were deployed in the battle against the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army in Kut and Najaf. They said Iraqi police and National Guard units continue to patrol those cities.

Rumsfeld said the Pentagon has revised its figures regarding the number of trained and equipped Iraqi forces. He said about 95,000 Iraqi troops have been trained and equipped, among 205,000 on the payroll. The secretary said the number of trained and equipped Iraqi troops will increase to more than 200,000 by the middle of 2005.

"As they gain more confidence, as the chain of command gets stood up better, why, obviously they'll be doing more and more," Rumsfeld said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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