Petraeus hails progress as US transforms Iraq command
BAGHDAD - A top US general hailed progress in Iraq on Friday while American forces underwent a transformation, with their command renamed to reflect the fact that no other countries have troops here.
Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I), the name of the command of the coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003, was changed to United States Forces-Iraq (USF-I) in a ceremony attended by senior generals and Iraqi ministers at Al-Faw Palace at US Camp Victory on Baghdad's outskirts.
"Since I left in September 2008, I have noted progress each time (I returned)," General David Petraeus, the current US regional military commander and former top general in Iraq, told reporters.
"That is not to say there have not been considerable challenges, there have not been periodic horrific attacks, and that there have not been innumerable obstacles.
"But there has been sustained progress, and that progress has been maintained even after US forces moved out of the cities, and progress continues even as US forces have drawn down."
The 400-odd people who attended the ceremony, among whom were Defence Minister Abdel Obeidi and Iraqi army chief Lieutenant General Ali Ghaidan Majeed, saw General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, roll up the MNF-I flag and unfurl a new one for USF-I.
After the departure of British, Romanian and Australian troops in July, the remaining 110,000-odd US troops are now the only force in MNF-I, spurring the decision to change the command's name.
At the start of the 2003 invasion, the so-called "coalition of the willing" included nearly 40 countries aside from the United States, including Britain, Australia and Poland.
It drew criticism, however, because many of the countries contributed only a handful of troops, with several pulling out or dramatically reducing their military commitments shortly after the invasion.
As part of a security deal signed by Baghdad and Washington in November 2008, US troops withdrew from Iraq's cities at the end of June and must leave the country entirely by the end of 2011.