Iraq: We could take over security by year's end

It’s ambitious, but the Iraqis think that they may have enough ready forces to take control of all 18 provinces by the end of this year.  National security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie set the goal today as the US turned over control of the tenth province, the predominantly Shi’ite Qadasiya, in a ceremony today.  American sources took a more cautious line, but the momentum has clearly shifted towards stability:

Mowaffaq al-Rubaie was speaking at a ceremony where U.S.-led troops transferred security responsibilities for southern Shi’ite Qadisiya province to Iraqi forces.

The handover puts Baghdad in control of security in 10 of the country’s 18 provinces, all mainly Shi’ite or Kurdish areas.

“We aspire to reach to the 18th province before the end of this year. God willing, all provinces will be under the control of the Iraqi security authorities before the end of this year,” Rubaie said in a speech broadcast on state-controlled Iraqiya television from the Qadisiya capital of Diwaniya.

Reuters reports that the Iraqis now have 560,000 security troops, including police, but most units still heavily rely on American support. That will continue to be the case for the next several years, assuming we stay, as Iraqi air power is almost non-existent and their logistical infrastructure still in its embryonic stage. This particular province was also garrisoned by Polish forces, a forgotten but much-appreciated partner in securing and stabilizing Iraq.

Reuters still gets Maliki’s statement on negotiations incorrect, however:

But the growing confidence Iraqi leaders have in handling their own security affairs was shown last week when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki suggested that a timetable be set for the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Growing confidence, yes; timetables, no. Nouri al-Maliki’s office corrected the record on Monday, but apparently Reuters still hasn’t read the news. Maliki wants long-term planning for either withdrawal or remaining, but Maliki specifically rejected timetables. Like the Bush administration and John McCain, Maliki wants to keep maximum flexibility based on conditions in Iraq, not an arbitrary calendar.

Iraq now controls the majority of its provinces, and the rest should move quickly to Maliki’s responsibility. American troops will transition to support roles rather than conducting primary combat missions, and Iraq will become a partner rather than a client. If we manage this properly, we can have a stable Arab democracy in the heart of Southwest Asia for the first time in history — and show other Arabs that self-government is not just possible, but highly desirable to extremism and tyranny.