Petraeus: Al Qaeda remains 'wolf closest to the sled'
Although the top U.S. commander in Iraq says that the military has made substantial progress in its fight against the radical Islamic militants.
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The military within Iraq is responding by blocking "as many of these shipments as [it] can by locating caches and destroying them, by detaining some of the militia extremists that have been using the weapons, by attacking the networks that link the militia extremists with their Qods Force [one of the Iranian Army's special operations unit] counterparts, and by detaining some Qods Force members."Skip to next paragraph
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But regularly stopping these weapons from getting to militants has proven difficult. "There is no question that Iran is providing advanced rocket propelled grenades (RPGs); some shoulder-fired, Stinger-like air defense missiles; and 240mm rockets in addition to mortars and small arms. They are implicated in the assassination of governors in southern provinces," Petraeus said.
Working with militias
Controlling the mostly Shiite militias is also of prominent concern to the government and people of Iraq, said Petraeus. "Having these thugs and criminals in their neighborhood is a major issue. We are not creating more militias or arming tribes. We are trying to take advantage of a situation in which locals, in some cases for the first time ... are volunteering to join the police," said Petraeus. "They've asked whether they can turn their guns on Al Qaeda instead of [on] coalition forces. We said that would be OK," explained Petraeus.
To reassure "ourselves and the Iraqi government, the neighborhood volunteers are being integrated into legitimate security forces," he explained.
The intent is not for the volunteers to remain on "our payroll indefinitely, but to get them started. We have the mechanism in place to get that started rapidly, then as a reassurance to everyone ... they are partnered with legitimate Iraqi forces, and with the coalition forces."
This dynamic has been "very interesting," said Petraeus. "We see the Iraqi Army acting as mentors. They step up and act as big brothers to these younger brothers."
Improving Iraqi security forces
The trustworthiness of the national and local police forces remains a concern. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) has taken steps to thin out dubious recruits from their ranks. Some corrupt elements have been replaced, but there is "still work to be done," said Petraeus. "The MOI has been chipping away at that [problem]. The Italian Carabineri have come to help, but there's a lot of work to be done and innumerable challenges," he added.
Future of local governments in Anbar
Western Anbar Province is still recovering from the recent assassination of local leader Sheikh Siddar Abu Risha, but Petraeus described his brother, Sheikh Ahmad, as a "brilliant, impressive individual." He added that, Mr. Ahmad's tribe "is not out to run Iraq, but to achieve what they believe to be their legitimate amount of influence – to make the Euphrates River Valley no longer a hotbed of Al Qaeda extremists, but a decent place to live and work and raise a family."
The new sheikh "clearly has vision and has thought through his relationship with the government of Iraq, [Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki, Sunni and Shiite religious leaders, the tribes of the Euphrates River Valley, and the government of Anbar [Province], and coalition forces."