WASHINGTON – The U.S. needs roughly 3,000 more Iraqi forces to join the battle in Baghdad, but requests for the troops have not been met because Iraqi soldiers are reluctant to leave their home regions, the commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad said.
Maj. Gen. James Thurman told Defense Department reporters Friday that while the U.S. has 15,000 troops in Baghdad -- which military leaders say is the priority battlefront in Iraq -- there are only about 9,000 Iraqi soldiers there. That is just a fraction of the 128,000 Iraqi Army troops that the U.S. says are now trained and equipped.
Iraqi soldiers generally join battalions in their geographic regions, and Thurman said that "due to the distance, (they) did not want to travel into Baghdad." He said the Iraqi minister of defense is working on the problem, and "I'm confident that they're going to meet that requirement here within the next few weeks, but it's going to take a little time."
Thurman said he asked for the additional six battalions from the Iraqi forces early in the Baghdad campaign, which began in June. He added, "I don't think putting more coalition (troops) in here is the right answer."
As an example, Thurman said that he has one U.S. battalion working with Iraqi Army and police in Baghdad's predominantly Shiite al-Baya neighborhood and the mixed southern neighborhood of Dora.
But, he said, "I felt like we needed more Iraqi Army in there to work side by side with the police and the national police, because those have been bad areas. And we're clearing the enemy out of there and we don't want them to come back."
There are a total of 302,000 Iraqi security forces, which include the army, national and local police. Currently there are 12,000 national police and 22,000 local police serving in Baghdad, Thurman said.
Asked if he is disappointed by the Iraqis' failure to send the additional troops, Thurman said no, because he has seen the security forces improve, and he understands that there are competing security demands across the country.
He said U.S. trainers are working with the Iraqi forces to make them more mobile. He added, "I think the government is trying to come to grips with the security needs, and we have a determined enemy out there that's trying to disrupt this government."
U.S. military leaders have repeatedly stressed that Baghdad is the top priority in Iraq right now, as forces try to stabilize the capital city so the government can do its job.
Attacks against the security forces have increased since the Baghdad operation began, from about 36 attacks a day to about 42 attacks a day, said Thurman. He said about six of those daily attacks result in injuries to U.S. troops or damage to equipment.
Overall, Thurman said attacks against Iraqi civilians have decreased, and that sectarian violence has dropped in the neighborhoods where the military has focused its efforts.
As he visits those areas, he said, "I find more people trying to get on with their lives. I see more shops opening and more people in the streets. ... As we clean up the streets, we find a city capable of starting to function properly."