Mideast edition, Tuesday, June 26, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va. — The strategy of “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down” appears to have backfired in Diyala province.

The province shows what happens when U.S. troops transfer security too quickly to ill-prepared Iraqi troops, said Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the Iraq Assistance Group.

Three U.S. Army brigade combat teams are currently trying to retake Diyala province from al-Qaida terrorists.

Pittard, who is at the end of his assignment in charge of embedded transition teams, said Monday that he believes the security handover in Diyala happened “way too soon.”

“We’ve got to be careful, because it was just a few years ago, by the end of 2005, where, believe it or not, many people were saying Diyala province was going to be one of the first provinces to go to provincial Iraqi control — it was going that well,” Pittard said.

Because of the successes, the coalition decided to reduce its presence in Diyala province from two brigade combat teams to one, and hand over security responsibility to the Iraqis, he said.

Then came the February 2006 attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra.

“There just wasn’t enough coalition force, force structure there in Diyala to be able to keep a lid on that violence, and now we’re here today, where we now have three coalition force brigades in Diyala, nearly 10,000 troops along with their Iraqi counterparts trying to now regain stability in Diyala province,” Pittard said.

Pittard also conceded that the Iraqi army’s 5th Division, which assumed security responsibility for most of Diyala province in July, was not ready for a number of reasons including a shortage of troops and logistical issues.

“Because of the fact that al-Qaida, other Sunni insurgents and even Shia militias in the south had become so ingrained and implanted into the province, it just was too much for the Iraqi security forces, at that time, to be able to handle on their own,” he said.

He said it will take time to rebuild Diyala, and ultimately it will take “a couple of years” before the Iraqis are ready to assume full security responsibility for their country, he said.

Pittard said there is a lesson to be learned from the coalition’s experience in Diyala: “Do not draw down too quickly when we think there is a glimmer of success; it will take time. It will take time for the Iraqi security forces to be able to take over for our forces.”

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