Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Iraq holds true: No calls for U.S. military's help

By Mike Tharp McClatchy Newspapers BAGHDAD — Two weeks after U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraq's major cities, amid sporadic outbreaks of violence countrywide, Iraqi authorities aren't asking American forces for help. Although U.S. troops are "just a radio call away," in Baghdad and five other major urban areas, it appears the Iraqis haven't asked even once. In Baghdad, the Iraqis also won't allow U.S. forces on the street, except for supply convoys. The failure to trigger the "Onstar option" suggests that the government of Iraq and its military think they can deal with the car bombings, homemade bombs and attacks with silencer-equipped handguns that have plagued parts of the country in recent days. As the June 30 deadline approached for withdrawing troops from major cities, U.S. military officials told their Iraqi army and national police allies that they were "just a radio call away" in case they needed American military muscle. So far, however, it isn't clear whether there's been a call. McClatchy Newspapers special correspondents in Najaf, Basra, Anbar, Diyala and Mosul report that Iraqi forces have made no requests for U.S. combat help. American officers have been surprised to learn that "out of the cities" meant just that. "The Iraqis have been hellbent on taking control of all security operations in the city and completely excluding the Americans, to the point of completely refusing to permit U.S. patrols of any kind into the city except logistics convoys," one U.S. officer in Baghdad said. Another American soldier who works closely with the Iraqi National Police: "Business is pretty much as usual. Our guys don't ask for help on the ground very often, and not at all since the 30th. We give them the usual help, and they mention several times how pleased they are that we are still here with them." The "usual help" includes more in-depth intelligence sharing, coordinating communications among Iraqi units and pervasive surveillance from the air. The go-it-alone stance of Iraqi security forces comes at a time of scattered but lethal outbreaks of violence over the last week or so. Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, has been hardest hit by car bombs, suicide bombers and assassinations of police officers with silencer-equipped handguns. Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds wounded. Over several days, insurgents have targeted Christians in Baghdad and Mosul. They've blown up churches, killing several people and wounding scores. On Sunday, a convoy in southern Iraq that was carrying U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill had just passed a homemade roadside bomb when it blew up; no one was hurt. It's clear that Iraqi authorities continue to lean on certain American capabilities they lack. While the Iraqi government has taken a hard line on no U.S. patrols in Baghdad except supply convoys, for example, many Iraqi officers privately have told their U.S. counterparts that they hope for more American involvement because of U.S. intelligence capability. Army Brig. Gen. William Phillips, the commander of the Joint Contracting Command-Iraq/Afghanistan, told McClatchy that "companies that want to come and do business in Iraq understand what the security situation is, but it won't be a deterrent. The (security) agreement is a great step forward for Iraqi sovereignty." The Iraqi National Police have reported a few minor violations of the June 30 agreement. On July 1, a U.S. patrol set up a checkpoint in a village west of Baqouba in Diyala province, searched civilian cars for two hours and drove off. On July 5, an American patrol set up a checkpoint, searched vehicles and conducted house-to-house searches in Abu Ghraib, a western suburb of Baghdad. For now, it seems that the 130,000-plus American troops in Iraq will serve mainly by waiting for that radio call from Iraqi security forces.

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