Friday, February 24, 2006

The U.S. military has assembled quick-reaction forces to help quell the violence in Iraq, but for now commanders have decided to stand back and let the fledgling Iraqi security forces handle the mission.

In an attempt to end violence sparked by a bombing this week of a revered Shi’ite mosque in Samarra, the Iraqi government imposed an all-day curfew. The ISF are enforcing the curfew through patrols, roadblocks and loudspeaker announcements throughout Baghdad’s mixed Sunni and Shi’ite neighborhoods amid one of the worst campaigns of Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“We have a partnership with two Iraqi army brigades … and what we have done is we’ve prepositioned our forces out in that area of responsibility,” said Army Col. Jeffrey Snow, whose 10th Mountain Division brigade is responsible for northwest Baghdad. “I want to make clear to everyone that there is no question that Iraqi security forces are clearly in the lead here.”

American brigades have embedded advisers among more than 50 Iraqi brigades. Equipped with radios, the advisers can call in U.S. reinforcements if the Iraqis become overwhelmed by demonstrators or attackers. The U.S. Army is launching spy drones to monitor Iraqi troops.

“The Iraqi security forces stepped up and immediately took steps to enhance a security posture within our area,” Col. Snow told reporters at the Pentagon via a teleconference. “Our forces are postured as a quick-reaction force.”

Asked if an all-out civil war may erupt after the mosque bombing, Col. Snow said, “The terrorists would like to see this break out in civil war, but I don’t think the people are going to allow that to happen.”

A senior defense official told The Washington Times that Col. Snow’s brigade was following procedures put in place for virtually all American ground forces during the current sectarian violence.

“The Iraqi security forces are out front,” the official said. “They are visible. So far anyway, the various sectarian factions are trying to make responsible comments about this. It’s really the Iraqi police side who are taking the lead on this.”

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld talked about the situation Thursday with Army Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, while Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the deputy chief of staff for multinational forces in Iraq, held a press conference in Baghdad.

“We’re not directing activity,” Gen. Lynch said. “The Iraqi government is and the Iraqi Security Force is.”

He said there were 555 recorded insurgent attacks last week across Iraq, with 23 percent of those attacks causing casualties.

“We’re dealing with a cowardly insurgency,” Gen. Lynch said. “What they’ve done now is they’ve shifted their sight group, their target, to the Iraqi civilians and the Iraqi Security Force and away from the coalition.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon released a progress report on the 232,000-strong Iraqi security forces, comprised of light-infantry army, air force, commando units, border patrol and police.

There are now 53 battalions of about 800 Iraqi soldiers capable of taking the lead in an operation, with U.S. help. The number stood at 36 three months ago. There are no battalions that can operate totally on their own.

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