The U.S. general in charge of training Iraqi forces says they will take control of all of the country's borders by July, as part of his focus on transitioning to more Iraqi-led security responsibility nationwide.
Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey says now that Iraq's new security forces have been largely recruited, equipped and trained, he is focusing on giving them more responsibility. He says control of the borders will be a major element.
"There's 3,631 kilometers of borders and by this summer, July, Iraq's security forces will be responsible for security along that entire front," he noted.
A more-senior commander predicted last week that by the end of the year Iraqi forces will have responsibility for security in 75 percent of the country. But some critics say the Iraqis are being given mainly peaceful or sparsely populated areas. General Dempsey says there has been some truth to that, but it will become less true as the year goes on.
"That point begins to lose its validity as we continue to hand over space, and 75 percent of Iraq certainly will include more than a few parts of it that are both heavily populated and very contested," he added.
In addition, the general points out that Iraqi forces have responsibility for half of Baghdad. Still, officials acknowledge that even where Iraqi forces have the leading role, they have coalition trainers and rely on U.S. and other foreign forces for air power, logistics, supplies and other types of combat support.
General Dempsey's command is responsible for building the Iraqi Army and police forces, but also for helping to establish the ministries that will support them, a process he says that is not going as quickly as he would like. The general says his goal is to create professional forces with professional support from the government. Part of that is instilling an ethic of service at all levels, and for the troops General Dempsey says, that means getting away from the corrupt practices of the past.
"In the former regime, the kind of conduct we're talking about, corruption, ethnic divisiveness, embezzlement, human rights abuses, those kinds of conduct were actually condoned," he said. "They were, in some cases, even a matter of policy. What we're trying to do is build a system where that kind of conduct is punished. And, in fact, we have clear cases where that kind of conduct, brought to their attention, is punished."
General Dempsey reports that in the last six months, investigations have uncovered five or six groups of Iraqi soldiers or police officers who have been involved in corruption, in some cases even kidnapping and murder. He says those soldiers and policemen have been disciplined, and some fairly senior officers have been removed from command. But the general says the investigations have not found any involvement in such activities by senior Iraqi civilian officials.