Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government is delivering on its commitments for the new way forward in Iraq, the commander of coalition forces said here today.
"So far, so good" is the way Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. characterized Iraqi efforts to bring security to Baghdad.
At a news conference with visiting Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Casey said Maliki has delivered on what he promised in a recent speech in which he laid out a range of commitments Iraqi security forces will have to follow.
In the speech, Maliki said the Iraqi army and police would have the authority they need to accomplish their missions, that there will be no political influence on the security forces, that terrorists would have no safe havens, and that security forces can go anywhere they need. "So far, we have seen them come through on those commitments," the general said.
It's too soon to say whether that trend will continue, Casey told reporters. "That'll play out over time, and we will continue to watch it," he said.
The Iraqi government has committed to bringing three full brigades to Baghdad. "They are on the timeline to move those troops to Baghdad," Casey said.
Recent raids to capture death squad leaders -- who are primarily Shiia, the Moslem sect to which Maliki belongs -- are "indicative of the prime minister's commitment to go after all of those who break the law," the general said.
The operations in Baghdad will take some time to have an effect, Casey told reporters. Plans call for a large increase of Iraqi soldiers in the capital and an increase of more than 21,000 U.S. troops in the region. The American forces will back up the Iraqi units if needed, Casey said.
Security in Baghdad is not going to improve overnight, he said. "We'll see some gradual progress over the next 60 to 90 days, but it will probably be late summer before we get to the point where people in Baghdad feel safe in their neighborhoods," the general said.
The plus-up in U.S. troops will run at least through late summer, Casey said. He added that the first troops are arriving now. "We have to see the effect they will have on the situation here before we can even start to think about sending them home," he said.
Casey outlined three factors that led to his decision to ask for more forces to secure the Iraqi capital, noting that he's always said he would ask for more troops if he needed them to accomplish the mission.
"One was the situation in Baghdad," he said. "Two was the commitments from the government that we just talked about -- that these forces, if they came in, we would have freedom of action to move with the Iraqi security forces. And three, it was clear that the reliability of the Iraqi security forces in the Baghdad area was not to the point where we could count on them to do the right thing without additional coalition support.
"So those three things combined to convince me that at this time we need some additional forces to accomplish my mission," he said.