(CNSNews.com) - Iraqi security forces are capable of dealing with expected attacks by insurgent groups such as al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias after American military forces leave the country at the end of this year, according to a U.S. deputy commanding general in Iraq.
“I think the Iraqi security forces are capable of managing the violence from both violent extremist organizations, such as al Qaeda and JRTN [Men of the Army of al-Naqshbandia Order], as well as some of the Iranian-backed militias such as Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq [League of the Righteous],” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker, the deputy commanding general for support of the U.S. Division-Center, Baghdad, during a bloggers roundtable on Nov. 22 sponsored by the Defense Department.
“Those organizations will still be able to conduct attacks while able to conduct high-profile attacks periodically, but the Iraqi security forces have shown -- all the way back to June 2009 when U.S. forces came out of the cities -- that they are capable of being able to disrupt these organizations,” said the general. “To prevent them from, you know, getting away with major sustained attacks and really force these organizations to just be able to conduct high-profile attacks that make the headlines. But they don’t really have any impact on the government and they have really limited impact on the people. In fact, most of the people have completely rejected these organizations.”
Brig. Gen. Becker’s comments came in response to CNSNews.com asking the following question: "The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd Austin, yesterday predicted that there will be an increase in violence after the U.S. leaves, fueled by al Qaeda and other militant groups. Do you think the Iraqis will be able to provide the level of security to stave off those attacks after the U.S. leaves?"
Becker responded, “I think there may be a spike in violence as Gen. Austin said, as some of these organizations, violent extremist organizations, kind of test the waters after U.S. forces have left. But the Iraqi security forces have been in the lead since Operation New Dawn and since really out of the cities in 2009.
“So the Iraqi security forces have already shown that they’re capable,” said Gen. Becker. “They did it during the elections, they did it, you know, during the Arab Spring when there were protests around the region and smaller protests within Iraq. But the Iraqi security forces have shown that they’re capable for that type of a threat.”
While talking to reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Nov. 21, Gen. Austin, according to The Washington Post, said, “As we leave, we can expect to see some turbulence in security initially, and that’s because you’ll see various elements try to increase their freedom of movement and freedom of action.
“There will probably be unfinished business [in Iraq] for many, many years to come,” he said. Gen. Austin also questioned whether the Iraqi forces would be able to counter attacks from al Qaeda.
“Al-Qaeda will continue to do what it’s done in the past, and we expect that it’s possible they could even increase their capability,” said Austin. “If the Iraqi security forces and the government of Iraq are able to counter that, it will be a good thing. If they can’t, they’ll continue to grow in capacity.”
The Iranian-backed militias “are elements that are really focused on creating a Lebanese Hezbollah kind-of organization in this country,” he added. “As we leave, if those elements are left unchecked, they will eventually turn on the government, and they should be concerned about that.”
Under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed in 2008 by the Bush administration, American troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by Dec. 31 of this year, approximately eight-and-a-half years after they arrived in 2003. Although the United States has signaled it is open to staying longer, Iraq has yet to ask for America to maintain a military presence beyond that date.
The U.S. State Department is expected to maintain a significant presence of diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
Gen. Becker said on Nov. 22 that fewer than 20,000 American soldiers remain in the country, down from the approximately 165,000 U.S. service members that were there at the height of coalition operations in 2007-08. He indicated that the United States is on track for withdrawal.
“We will have the bulk of our soldiers home for Christmas,” he said.
The United States is in its “final chapter in this war, which really isn’t an end, but rather a new beginning to our long-term strategic partnership with Iraq,” Becker said.
“As I look back on the last nearly nine years of what we’ve accomplished, the one thing that really stands out, at least for me, is that we’ve given the Iraqi people opportunities they didn’t have in the past,” said Gen. Becker. “The opportunity to choose their own government and develop an economy that benefits all the Iraqi people and, most importantly, an opportunity for a better future. So, how it turns out beyond that is up to the Iraqis. But we have provided them an opportunity.”
The Congressional Research Service reported in March 2011 that “the cumulative total appropriated” by Congress for Iraq “war operations, diplomatic operations, and medical care” is $806 billion.
As of Nov. 21 of this year, 4,421 Americans had died from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, according to the U.S. Defense Department.