BEGINNING in 2012, Iraqis will be responsible for defending their own borders and air space, and for policing their own people, both inside and outside their cities.
Since 2003, Iraqis have not had to perform that mission alone. United States Forces-Iraq has been there to provide security, train the Iraqis and watch over the Iraqi security forces as they learned to manage security issues on their own.
But the safety net of the Americans in Iraq will soon be gone, and Iraq will go it alone. To manage its own security, the Iraqi government has at its disposal an array of security forces -- including an Iraqi army, navy and air force -- as well as local civilian and federal police forces, border enforcement and oil police.
Today, the security situation in Iraq has become more stable than what it was at the height of the surge in 2007.
"Back in 2007, there were about 1,600 attacks each month in the country," said Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, the USF-I deputy commanding general for operations. "That is IED attacks and sniper attacks and grenade attacks and small-arms attacks and mortar attacks and rocket attacks. Today, there are about 400 attacks each month in the country, with the same kind of munitions. And those aren't attacks just against U.S. forces, those are attacks against Iraqis as well."
Iraqi security forces fall under both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior. The MOD owns the Iraqi army, while the MOI owns the federal police; the roles of each have evolved over time.
For eight years now, Helmick said, Iraq has focused its security efforts inward. Now, he said, it is time to focus those efforts outward.
"What we are doing is transferring responsibility for internal security to the police forces and not the Army forces," Helmick said. "The Iraqis want to eventually get the military out of the cities, and instead of having the weapons pointed in, have the weapons pointed out."
In July, Gen. Babacar Zebari, chief of staff of the Iraqi army, said the service has been preparing for that role for some time.
"About a year or year and half ago, we changed from an army of being the police, to being a real army," he said. "We started from the beginning. We had battalions that did the tactical training. After we finish training with the battalions, we'll do training from battalions to brigade divisions, so we can protect our borders."
Zebari's forces now include some 192,000 soldiers, with more than 5,000 Iraqi special operations forces as well. They train at nine Iraqi-run training centers that provide programs for individuals up to battalion level.
"We are now focusing on the training academies so the young generation can get trained and will be equal to the modern nations," Zebari said.
Zebari said his army is different now than what existed before the Americans came.
"In the old days it was a draft and you had to force people to join the army," Zebari said. He credits the U.S. with helping develop an all-volunteer force, helping to foster better relations between the Iraqi officers and the enlisted force and developing rules of engagement.
"If an incident happened -- somebody fired their weapons for instance -- in those days they had no objections to just keep firing back at people, to eliminate everybody there, whether it was a neighborhood or a village," Zebari said. "Now, the whole system has changed."
Zebari also pointed out that civilians now control the military in Iraq, a departure from how the system operated under Saddam Hussein.
"The minister, he gets his power and his strength from the prime minister and the parliament, and parliament is elected by the people," Zebari said. "So a lot of things have changed."
The U.S. military provided training to the Iraqi Army to get it to where it is today, Zebari said. Included in that training, at the onset, was counter-terrorism training, which Zebari said he has been told his forces now excel at.
"Even now the coalition and the Americans are saying that the Iraqi Army is the most qualified Army fighting terrorism, because (it's) always on the ground," Zebari said.
"I will never forget my work with the United States," Zebari said. "When I came here to take over this important position, it wasn't easy at all. But if it weren't for U.S. advisers and coalition advisers, we wouldn't have been able to build this establishment."
The MOI-run Federal Police, along with the local police unit in cities, now provide security inside the country, a role once performed by the Iraqi military.
"The Federal Police is a force somewhere in the middle between the Iraqi Army and the regular police," said Staff Lt. Gen. Hussein Jassim Al Awadi, chief of Iraqi Federal Police. "Using the Army in internal issues is against international law. That is why a lot of countries are seeking to own such a force. This force will be able to take control if the situation in this country is out of the control of the regular police, and to prevent having to use the regular Army."
The Iraqi Federal police force employs about 41,000, and has five federal police training facilities around Iraq. Al Awadi said interest in serving in the force is growing, not only for the pay, but also for the confidence it is instilling in those who serve.
The general said that Americans training the police force units had at one point started giving units unique titles, for instance.
"They start giving those units some titles, such as Delta, Scorpion, Cobra, etc.," Al Awadi said. "Such a title for the company, to train with the United States Army -- it creates motivation inside them. If you try to move one of those police from one company to another, they will say, 'No I am a part of Cobra Company.' The U.S. Army has created pride inside these police in their units."
Confidence also comes from being trusted by civilian Iraqis, Al Awadi said. It was a confidence not easily gained.
"Thankfully, we were able to plant this trust and confidence with Iraqis," he said. "Now, individuals are proud to wear our uniform."
Another incentive is pay for the Federal Police force. In the Iraqi parliament, he said, there are efforts underway to make pay for the Federal Police the same as that of their Iraqi Army equivalents. For a private in the Federal Police, that means about $850 a month. For perspective, Al Awadi said, as a general in the Iraqi Army in 1996 he was making less than $50 a month.
Some of those hoping to join the Iraqi Federal Police will pass through one of its academies in Baghdad, currently on Victory Base Complex. Staff Maj. Gen. Montather Mohammad, the Special Training Academy commander, runs the school.
At the schoolhouse, which stood up in 2008, Mohammad oversees training for those who will eventually serve in the Iraqi Federal Police. The school has grown, he said, despite initial skepticism.
"In the beginning, a lot disagreed about having an academy. But now, because of our strong discipline and our hard work, those same people say they actually see now the results of this academy."
When the school first opened, he said, there were only 58 enlisted men and eight officers. Today, that has grown to 1,000 enlisted and 60 officers.
"This academy was built from nothing," Mohammad said. "We had this progress and this success because we insisted on having an academy."
The special training academy has had American, Australian and Italian police force instructors, but now, Mohammad said, the Iraqis are taking over their own training.
"At my academy, we are ready, we are going to take over the mission," he said. "The personal security detachment section, they don't have any foreign trainers anymore. We are taking care of that training by ourselves, 100 percent. And the (Italians) are now just observing, since the seventh training cycle."
Mohammad said the presence of the NATO-sponsored training mission there will continue. But he said he has asked for additional types of training, for different kinds of missions. In particular, he said, they are asking about air marshal training to provide security in the air. "That takes special skills," he said. Additionally, he said, with turmoil in neighboring Middle Eastern countries like Tunisia and Egypt, the police there are also learning riot control.
When the Americans leave Iraq, Helmick said it's been suggested that violence in Iraq will increase, as a parting shot of sorts, to muddy the perception of why the United States is leaving Iraq. If it happens, the general says USF-I will be un-phased, as should observers.
"We think the attacks are going to increase as we begin to depart in earnest, and we believe the reason for that is that the groups backed by Iranians will want to take credit having the United States leave," he said. "But we have an agreement with the government of Iraq ... that we are needed here until Dec. 31, 2011. We will honor that commitment, and we will leave here with honor and a successful mission. Nobody runs the United States of America out."
When America does leave, the U.S. embassy will remain, and plans are underway to ensure a continuing partnership between U.S. forces and the Iraqi security forces, said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the USF-I spokesman and J-9 director.
"One of the things that were doing is really, we're working with the Iraqi security forces to develop a long-range combined- and joint-exercise program," Buchanan said. "This will be under U.S. Central Command's leadership, as part of the CENTCOM theater security cooperation plan."
This year, he said, USF-I helped the Iraqis plan a joint training exercise series that involved the Iraqi army, navy, marine corps and air force. "They did so with our advice, and except for a couple of very small events, we weren't directly involved in the execution," he said.
Buchanan said Americans will continue to work with Iraqi leadership in both the MOI and the MOD, to help expand the program.
"Perhaps the next time around -- and we're are looking to see if this will be done during the rest of our time here or if it comes at some point in the future -- it will be more of a combined exercise, so it's not just Iraqi forces but Iraqi, U.S. and perhaps some of our regional partners from other countries," Buchanan said.
The U.S. Navy's relationship with the Iraqi navy might provide a good example of what's to come. U.S. Navy Central, Buchanan said, works daily with the Iraqi navy to assist in securing territorial waters and offshore oil platforms.
"Our forces have been working at the port to advise, train, assist and equip the Iraqi navy and marine corps," he said. "Then Navy Central force has been working with them on the operational side. That relationship is not going to end with the departure of USF-I."
Ultimately, it will be the U.S. embassy that helps create further opportunities for U.S. forces to interact and train with Iraqi forces after the departure of USF-I, Buchanan added.
Both the United States and the Iraqis signed a strategic framework agreement. That, Buchanan said, "aspires to a long-term and enduring partnership between Iraq and the United States and sets the conditions for cooperation in a wide variety of areas -- everything from agriculture and economic development, educational exchanges, science and technology, to defense and security cooperation."
The broad, overarching agreement, he said "gives the azimuth to the embassy as it looks forward to enhance Iraq's civil capacity in the future -- 2012 and beyond. Defense and security cooperation are part of that, and it relates to both professionalization of the police forces and the military."