The U.S. Defense Department has released an unclassified version of its quarterly report on the situation in Iraq, focusing on progress since the last report in February. But also on Tuesday, the multinational command in Iraq confirmed that it has called in 1500 members of a stand-by force based in Kuwait to help establish security in a troubled western province.
The Iraq Stability and Security report, required by Congress, takes note of political progress, including the formation of the new Iraqi government. It makes only brief mention of the failure, so far, to appoint new ministers of defense and interior, who will command the army and police forces. The report also cites progress on the economy, reconstruction efforts, and the development of a free media. But it cites what one official called "disappointment" with slow movement on increasing oil production and expanding the availability of electricity.
The report says the Iraqi army and police forces are growing in numbers and capability. It says 71 army units are taking the lead in combat, and 40 others are fighting in support of foreign troops. Iraqi units have taken primary responsibility for security in several parts of the country. But the report does not rank any Iraqi units as being able to operate independently on a large scale, mainly because of the lack of a logistical support structure. Officials say there are such units, but the exact number is in the classified version of the report, seen only by senior officials and members of Congress.
The report acknowledges that violence has increased since the last quarterly report was issued, but Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman says that does not mean Iraq is having a civil war.
"Somebody made a good run at provoking a civil war, and they failed, by our judgment," said Mr. Rodman. "When you now have the leaders of all the communities have formed a government together, this is not what a civil war would look like."
The report says coalition forces are doing a better job of finding improvised bombs before they explode. But it also notes the findings of a survey by the International Republican Institute two months ago that indicate Iraqis are more pessimistic about the future than they were late last year, and that they feel their security situation has deteriorated. Officials say data indicates fewer foreigners are infiltrating into Iraq to join the insurgency, but they say some are still coming in, particularly to train Iraqi insurgents.
The report says 81 percent of the attacks in Iraq happen in four provinces, with Baghdad and the huge Sunni Muslim-dominated western province of al-Anbar having the most attacks.
To help deal with that, the multi-national command in Iraq confirmed Tuesday that 1,500 troops who had been on stand-by in Kuwait have been sent to al-Anbar to help with security operations. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
"The specific purpose for these forces is to assist the Iraqi security forces in the ongoing operations to establish rule of law in the areas that they are going [to], to re-establish the conditions for effective provincial and local governance, to provide additional security for the people of al-Anbar Province and to reduce al-Qaida's ability to influence in this key area," he said.
But Whitman says there could still be a reduction in foreign forces in Iraq this year, which the coalition commander has indicated he hopes to recommend soon.
The commander, General George Casey, has said he will make his next recommendations on troop levels during the spring, which ends in three weeks, and he has expressed the hope that he will be able to announce a "fairly significant" reduction in foreign troops.
Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the deployment of the stand-by force does not necessarily mean that won't happen.
"We will, again, let the conditions on the ground determine the pace at which coalition forces are able to reduce their presence, conditions being not only the activity of the anti-Iraqi forces but also the development of the government, the strength of the ministries as they start to stand up, the security forces being able to take over responsibility. There are a lot of factors that go into this," he noted.
But for now, those factors have led General Casey to call in more troops, as insurgents continue to try to prevent the new government from establishing its authority, especially in largely Sunni Muslim areas like al-Anbar.