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Iraq Army Debate Takes Center Stage In US

The biggest fundamental problem today, Fallows concludes, is that no one at a high enough level in the Bush administration is showing sufficient focus and determination to push through the necessary resources, expertise and prioritization to effective build the new Iraqi army.

Washington (UPI) Nov 21, 2005
Is the new Iraqi army a hopeless basket case as James Fallows writes in the current issue of The Atlantic or is it steadily making progress as the Bush administration maintains?

Fallows, a widely respected veteran journalist and national correspondent for The Atlantic, concludes in a massive, thoroughly researched and soberly written article in the latest issue of the magazine, "America's hopes today for an orderly exit from Iraq depend completely on the emergence of a viable Iraqi security force. All current indications suggest that no such viable Iraqi security force is about to emerge."

Fallows thoroughly documents in his article the collapse of the far-too- rapidly recruited and superficially trained new Iraqi forces in the year following the lightning U.S. conquest of Iraq in a three-week campaign in March-April 2003.

He cites an internal Pentagon document that for most of 2004 "absent-without-leave rates among regular (Iraqi) army units were in double digits and remained so for the rest of the year."

A Government Accountability Office report cited by Fallows reported that 50 percent of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps in the areas around Baghdad deserted in the first half of April 2004. So did 30 percent of those in the northeastern area around Tikrit and the southeast near al-Kut. And so did 80 percent of the forces around Falujah.

However, Fallows notes, the situation dramatically improved after John Negroponte, now Director of National Intelligence, became U.S. ambassador to Iraq and after the widely regarded Lt. Gen. David Petraeus took over responsibility for the training of the Iraqi army.

"Training had been under-funded in mid-2004 but more money and equipment started to arrive," Fallows wrote. "The training strategy also changed. More emphasis was put on embedding U.S. advisers with Iraqi units."

However, Fallows cautioned, "Time is the problem. As prospects have brightened inside the program they have darkened across the country."

The biggest fundamental problem today, Fallows concludes, is that no one at a high enough level in the Bush administration is showing sufficient focus and determination to push through the necessary resources, expertise and prioritization to effective build the new Iraqi army.

However, there is a brighter side to the picture. As Fallows noted, Negroponte and Gen. Petraeus jump-started the badly stalled Iraqi army training program and many of the reforms they have implemented are starting to take effect.

Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh Burke chair in strategy at Washington's respected Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, believes that in the current U.S. political climate of disillusionment over Iraq, much good news has gone unreported.

"Iraqi forces are becoming more effective, and the U.S. and MNSTC-I have provided substantial additional data on Iraqi force development in recent weeks," he writes in a new study.

Cordesman documented "a continued increase in the number of Iraqi units able to take the lead in combat operations against the insurgency. There are now 88 Iraqi Army and special operations battalions conducting combat operations against the enemy -- an increase of nine since the July report."

Of those 88 operational units, "36 are assessed as being 'in the lead' or fully independent -- a 50 percent increase over units at these levels of readiness in the July report," Cordesman wrote.

Also, there were now "28 Special Police Force battalions capable of combat operations -- an increase of 13 since the last report," he wrote.

Cordesman also noted, "Iraqi forces have taken responsibility for security in several areas of Iraq and now have the lead in one Iraqi province, roughly 87 square miles of Baghdad and over 450 square miles in other provinces."

"In all, "more than 87,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen have now been trained and equipped, " he wrote. "... A total of 68,800 police have been trained and equipped."

Overall, there has been a 12 percent increase in Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior forces trained and equipped for counter-insurgency operations since July 2005, he wrote.

The picture is certainly not overwhelmingly rosy. The problems Fallows documents remain real. And Cordesman acknowledged, "Iraqi forces still do have major weaknesses, and the problems in the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior required a significant change in the Coalition advisory effort as recently as Oct. 1, 2005."

Further, Time magazine reported in its Nov. 28 issue that at a closed door meeting in late November on Capitol Hill, 10 experienced U.S. armed forces combat officers testified that even with 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, they were badly stretched for manpower around the country and had to "leapfrog" around the country to prevent the insurgents returning in force to towns and cities from which they had been expelled in fiercely contested combat operations.

Their testimony confirmed the warnings then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki gave in early 2003 before the start of combat operations: Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers would be needed to secure the country. At the time, he was heavily slapped down by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and by then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Of course, U.S. strategy in Iraq, as Fallows noted, still hinges to a crucial degree on whether sufficiently significant Iraqi forces can be brought up to a reliable and effective operational level fast enough to remedy those U.S. troop shortages.

Cordesman's conclusion, however, also remains valid: "What is clear," he wrote, is "... that very real progress is being made in many areas that have not received proper political and media attention, and that no political or journalist assessment of the insurgency campaign or Iraq's future should be made without at least considering the details of the Iraqi force development effort."

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Cheney Defends War In New Speech
Washington (UPI) Nov 21, 2005
Vice President Dick Cheney continued the White House's media offensive to defend the Iraq war Monday, slamming what he called "irresponsible" comments from Capitol Hill opponents and reiterating the raison d'etre for the conflict.

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