WASHINGTON – Iraq's military is ready and able to take over security operations as the United States ends it combat role and prepares for a major troop withdrawal, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said Sunday.
Gen. Ray Odierno said Iraq's military has "stepped up" to the challenge even as Iraqi politicians continue to squabble over the formation of a new government and new incidents of extremist violence are reported.
"We do believe they are ready to assume full operations in Iraq," Odierno said on ABC's "This Week." He praised the Iraqi security forces for their professionalism and neutrality during the months of political uncertainty that followed elections earlier this year.
Odierno added, however, that it is critical for Iraq to form a government after five months of delay, warning that insurgents will try to take advantage of the political vacuum.
"The Iraqis have to understand the importance of forming the government," he said.
Violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq since 2008, but insurgent attacks remain a daily occurrence, especially in the capital Baghdad, preventing the city from regaining a semblance of normalcy seven years after the insurgency broke out.
Still, violence has spiked over the past month as the U.S. moves ahead with a major drawdown of its troops to be completed by the end of August, when only 50,000 will remain in the country.
On Sunday, a suicide car bomber struck a police patrol in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killing eight people and wounding 23, and a car bomb exploded in the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, killing two people and injuring four. Those followed attacks in the southern city of Basra, where explosions hit a market and killed 43 people on Saturday.
Odierno acknowledged that there were "ups and downs" but spoke of a "broad change in the security environment" as Iraqi security forces with U.S. assistance move against insurgents.
"I think they can handle it," he said.