Wathiq Khuzaie/AFP/Getty Images
Maj. Gen. Mark Herlting speaks during a press conference at Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, Dec. 19, 2007.
Maj. Gen. Mark Herlting speaks during a press conference at Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, Dec. 19, 2007. Wathiq Khuzaie/AFP/Getty Images
The so-called surge in U.S. troops last year helped quell the violence in Baghdad, but in northern Iraq, U.S. forces continue to face a "tenuous" security situation, says the top U.S. commander for that region.
"We're still continuing to pursue al-Qaida in several areas in our region," Army Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling tells Renee Montagne.
Meanwhile, Hertling's troops are also working to train Iraqi forces and to build trust between the central government in Baghdad and the provinces.
The last few months have seen a general decline in violence in Iraq. In northern Iraq, attacks have dropped by about 50 percent in the past six months, but that decline has begun to level off over the past month or so, Hertling says.
He says the U.S. has enough troops in the region; the focus now is on training more Iraqi security forces — especially police. Hertling estimates that some 30,000 additional Iraqi police are needed: "We're not completely where we want to be there in the north."
He says the U.S. military is set to start training those additional forces in April.
'Reverse Helicopter Governance'
In addition to battling insurgents and training Iraqi forces, U.S. troops under Hertling's command are working as a "bridge" between the central government in Baghdad and the provincial governments, he says.
"We call it reverse helicopter governance ... bringing the ministers to the provinces," Hertling says. "In the past, governors went to Baghdad, met with the ministers, had their ceremonial tea, which is part of the culture, presented their problems and then left and went back to their provinces — at that point, hoping that the ministers would help them solve their problems.
"Well, the central government has so many challenges right now that sometimes as soon as the governors left [the ministers'] offices, their problems were forgotten," he adds.
That may be changing. Recently, seven northern Iraqi governors held an all-day meeting in Tikrit with ministers from Baghdad to air their concerns, ranging from repairing water and sewer systems to the distribution of gasoline and fertilizer, Hertling says.
"We're beginning to see some results, where the ministers now understand what's going on in the outlying provinces" and aren't just focused on Baghdad, he says.
The Difficulty of Moving Money
Part of the problem is convincing the central government to loosen purse strings, he says.
Under Saddam Hussein, government ministers were considered successful if they tried to hold onto the agencies' money, Hertling says. Now, ministers need to spend the money. But even that presents logistical challenges.
"There are very few banks over here, so just saying to the central government, 'Hey, wire money to X, Y or Z province,' isn't like saying, 'Hey, wire money to the capital of Missouri or the capital of California in order to get funds to them,'" Hertling says. "Everything you do over here in terms of finances is very difficult."
Hertling cites several tasks for U.S. forces to help improve relations between Baghdad and the provinces:
"We have to ensure that there's trust between the central government and the provincial governors. We have to ensure that there's continued dialogue. We have to provide the helicopters that get them from one place to another while the security conditions continue to improve.
"We're really sort of the bridge between the central government and the provinces to get the right things happening," the general says.