WASHINGTON – The U.S. commander in northern Iraq said Friday he doesn't have enough troops for the mission in increasingly violent Diyala province.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon also said that Iraqi government officials are not moving fast enough to provide the "most powerful weapon" against insurgents — a government that works and supplies services for the people.
Mixon commands the area that includes Diyala province, north of Baghdad. It was a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency before the start of the Baghdad security crackdown and has worsened since militants fled there to avoid the increased U.S.-led operations started in the capital in February.
His comments on the Iraqi government were unusually candid and in keeping with the sentiment in Congress and among some administration officials as well as an American electorate becoming ever more impatient with the war.
Mixon has already received extra troops, but violence in Diyala is on the rise, he said, both because more militants have moved in and because coalition forces are taking the offensive.
"We are sure there are elements of both Sunni extremists and Shia extremists that have moved out of Baghdad and relocated into not only Diyala province, but also into Salah ad Din province," he said.
The U.S. is taking increasing casualties in Diyala. One soldier was killed Thursday from an explosion during combat operations in the province; one was killed and four others were wounded Tuesday in a shooting attack; and six U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday when a massive bomb destroyed their vehicle.
"I do not have enough soldiers right now in Diyala province to get that security situation moving," Mixon said. "We have plans to put additional forces in that region."
He declined to give details but said Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, is planning to send more forces.
"I laid out a plan for General Odierno on the numbers of forces that I would need," Mixon told Pentagon reporters by video conference from Iraq. "We have made progress ... we have taken terrain back from the enemy. General Odierno intends to give me additional forces as they become available."
Additional troops have been flowing into Iraq for months as part of President Bush's plan to try to get a handle on violence in the four-year-old war.
Initially, Bush ordered an extra 21,500 combat troops to the country — mainly to be used in Baghdad, but also in Anbar province. An additional 7,000 are going in support positions.
The last of five extra brigades planned in the increase is to arrive by June. There are some 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now.
Mixon has about 3,500 troops in Diyala and there are about 10,000 Iraqi soldiers and several thousand Iraqi police, with 3,000 more police approved but not yet hired and trained.
Vice President Dick Cheney this week visited Iraq and pressed the government to make more progress, while Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there last month that "the clock is ticking" on reconciliation and other measures of progress in Iraq.
Mixon said Diyala's government is so ineffective at providing services that it could be described as nonfunctioning.
He also blamed national ministries in Baghdad and said the weak government hampers coalition efforts to make the country more secure. Showing Iraqis that their government can provide for them "will be the most powerful weapon against this insurgency," Mixon said.