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Odierno Updates Congress on Iraq, Says He’s ‘Confident in the Way Ahead’

Gen. Raymond Odierno is testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, the first time he’s addressed the panel, about the Iraq mission he commands. “I believe we are now in reach of our goals,” he said. Iraq is slowly reestablishing diplomatic and economic ties with its neighbors, and has begun implementing a “long-term strategic partnership” with the U.S. through the Strategic Framework Agreement that governs an ultimate U.S. political and economic commitment to Iraq and the Status of Forces Agreement that governs ultimate U.S. departure.

All U.S. military actions in Iraq now occur “by, with and through” the Iraqi security forces, “within the framework of the security agreement.” Odierno praised the departure of U.S. combat forces from Iraqi cities on June 30 as a “major milestone” whose “positive psychological impact has been profound.” He called the Iraqi security forces capable.

Nine months after implementing the security agreement and three months after leaving the cities “we continue to make consistent…progress,” Odierno said. Reduced attacks “of all types” to levels not seen since the “summer of 2003.” He’s got charts! Overall attacks have decreased 85 percent over the last two years, to 594 in August of 2009. “Ethno-sectarian deaths” have decreased 77 percent. Only 19 ethno-sectarian incidents over Ramadan 2009, compared to 978 in 2006. There are “high-profile attacks” that continue, but Odierno brings out stats to show their decline even after June 30. “There was a clear security lapse on 19 August in Baghdad, but I do not believe it was the result of any systematic security problems,” Odierno said, referring to massive Baghdad bombings occurring that day, saying the government “responded effectively … enabled by U.S. forces, and they continue to reassess their security posture.” Extremist efforts to re-spark sectarian violence “have failed.”

“You can honestly feel a difference” amongst the people in Baghdad, Odierno said. Lots of praise for the Iraqi security force training effort. Iraqis conducting “more and more precision intelligence-driven operations,” much of which are “unilateral,” and even rely on their own “human and technical intelligence.” Strides in Iraqi counterterrorism operations, particularly with Iraqi special operations forces.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been “reduced” to a “small, ideological core.” They’re still in the north, hoping to go back to Anbar and Baghdad. But he’s working with Iraqi security force to “deny extremist safe havens and reduce the flow of foreign fighters and lethal aid into Iraq.” The Sons of Iraq ex-insurgent militiamen program appears to be going well, with 5000 more transitioning into government jobs, thanks to the government “understanding its importance … to building trust between Sunnis and the government.” The Maliki government says the SOI will be integrated by the end of the year, aspirationally, although Odierno said he doesn’t believe the government will meet the deadline.

Security is “not yet enduring,” with “drivers of instability” remaining. Odierno said “we cannot focus on immediate and traditional security threats alone” as Iraq rebuilds its institutions and must look at challenges like “communal and factional struggles for resources” and government incapacity. The January elections are “critical for determining the path Iraq will take in the future.” Parliament needs to figure out quickly what form the elections will take, such as open lists of candidates or the closed-list system that resulted in big factional blocs elected over the last two elections. Decades of “infrastructural neglect” require “substantial capital investment.” There has been “some progress” in developing a “culture of accountability,” though government corruption remains high. Still disputed internal boundaries in the north between Arabs and Kurds that al-Qaeda seeks to exploit; Odierno “strongly support[s]” United Nations mediation.

Now: about that withdrawal. “Eleven months from now, our commission will end,” leaving an advisory & training and “limited” counterterrorism mission coordinated with Iraqis. By Aug. 31, 2010, there will be six Advisory and Assistance Brigades of about 50,000 troops. The drawdown — 124,000 troops and eleven combat brigades today, going down to 120,000 by October’s end — will “sustain stability,” he pledged. Gotten rid of 200 bases and will continue to close them, as well as gotten rid of about 30,000 contractors. Six headquarters elements of Odierno’s command will consolidate to three by August. He said he’ll still need the emergency commanders’ piggybank known as CERP. “I cannot overstate the importance of information operations” continuing in order to prevent insurgent messages from taking root, Odierno said. “The way we drawdown our forces will influence … the nature of the new Iraq,” he added. “Success will be defined by our ability to support Iraq’s developing institutional capacity, from governance to economics.”

“Strategic goal remains to foster a long-term partnership with a sovereign, stable Iraq,” Odierno concluded. “I’m confident in the way ahead.”

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