The top U.S. ground commander in Iraq says coalition forces are rapidly focusing on restoring basic needs and humanitarian services to the Iraqi people. But Lieutenant General David McKiernan says there are still pockets of armed resistance and other potentially lethal threats to coalition soldiers as they continue to expand their control in Iraq.
Speaking via a satellite link from Baghdad, General McKiernan, says coalition forces are nearing completion of combat operations and are moving to restore services to the Iraqi people that are equal to or better than before the war.
The general says soldiers are still in what he called the "decisive" combat phase of the campaign.
"There are some places where we continue to find pockets of regime resistance. We had some fighting last night in the Tikrit area. We will have some fighting in some other places as we continue to expand our control of the battle space," the general said. "There is a second category of paramilitaries. Some of those, many of those, are not Iraqi. They have come in from other countries that we will continue to have to clear and deal with. Then there are continued threats of protecting the force from suicide bombers or any other lethal threats that our forces might face."
General McKiernan says he is not surprised that coalition forces have yet to find stockpiles of biological or chemical weapons.
But he says he expects Iraqis involved in making weapons of mass destruction (WMD) will provide soldiers with the information they need to discover such stockpiles inside the country.
"We did have several hundred sites that we had some history of intelligence on that we were going to exploit," General McKiernan said. "But again this regime, over the last decade, has been pretty good at hiding material and moving it around. So it was no surprise to any of us that many of these sites that we have already exploited have not necessarily turned up the material and we think our greatest source of finding WMD related material or equipment is going to be from human intelligence gained from Iraqis."
General McKiernan brushed aside criticism that coalition soldiers have failed to protect important sites in Baghdad, saying the world is watching "democracy in process" in Iraq.
The general says his task now is to create a stable and secure environment for that process to mature.
General McKiernan says soldiers are transitioning from combat to civil affairs, with priorities that include restoring electrical power and drinking water, and improving medical care.