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Iraqi Forces One Spot Of Good News Says Top General

Until Interior Ministry forces are trained and trusted -- and trust is a major problem -- the Iraqi military must forgo more conventional military missions, like protecting the borders from exterior threats, Abadi said.
By Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Jul 26, 2006
A top Iraqi general has offered a sober assessment of Iraq's troubles but said one of the things that has gone right is the Iraqi military, which he believes will grow beyond the stated goal of 160,000.

Lt. Gen. Nasier Abadi, deputy chief of staff for Iraqi forces, said Monday he anticipates the Iraqi military will expand from the planned 113 battalions to 128 battalions, which would increase the size of the military by between 7,000 and 20,000, depending on the make-up of the battalions.

It needs to expand because of the scope of the insurgent threat, according to Abadi, who said should it be up to the Ministry of the Interior to fight.

"The army is doing a good job. We have (marched) a lot from nothing to becoming a force to be reckoned with. But we need support from the Ministry of the Interior and the government to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Abadi said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry is widely considered to be riddled with corruption and its forces compromised by the presence of Shiite militia members who have used their government role to mete out punishments on other groups within Iraq.

Abadi told United Press International that many in Iraq do not distinguish between Interior Ministry forces and the Iraqi military, making it difficult for soldiers to gain the trust and confidence needed to rout the insurgency in certain areas.

Until Interior Ministry forces are trained and trusted -- and trust is a major problem -- the Iraqi military must forgo more conventional military missions, like protecting the borders from exterior threats, Abadi said.

The borders are a major challenge. The border patrol force does not have the depth to secure the long Iranian border, which is feeding Shiite militias with weapons and funding, but the army is too bogged down with the insurgent fight to help, Abadi said.

"Because we are engaged in Baghdad with insurgents, we don't have the forces to back up the border patrol," Abadi said. "Baghdad is a very, very big city. We conduct 1,000 patrols a day there. The moment we leave an area the insurgents come ... We cannot be everywhere at the same time."

Abadi identified the sectarian militias and foreign meddling as the root of Iraq's current problems -- both of which are affected by insecure borders -- but said they find their roots in "grave mistakes" made early in the Iraq war.

The main Shiite militia threat is the Mahdi army, the force loyal to renegade cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Sadr was behind two bloody uprisings in 2004 and frequent clashes with Iraqi and U.S. military forces and is believed to be behind the 2003 murder of a rival cleric in Najaf. The U.S. authority in Iraq considered him a threat to stability and an enemy from the beginning, and in 2004 announced a warrant for his arrest and shut down his newspaper, which only increased his legitimacy and support among Shiites as an opposition to the occupation.

"He started small, but he had the support of the people," said Abadi. "The coalition thought the people they had were representing of the people of Iraq. Had we had foresight, (we would have) gained Moqtada Sadr to our side."

While Iran is supporting the Mahdi Army and other Shiite insurgents, Syria is a major way-station for people, weapons and funding for the Sunni insurgency.

And one of the main targets of the Sunni insurgency is the oil infrastructure. Oil is the linchpin of Iraq's economy, and is primarily located in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north. As long as Sunni community is worried it will be cut out of Iraq's oil profits -- which remains a major concern despite the constitution's promise of fair distribution -- oil pipelines are targets of attack. They are also regularly tapped by tribes and smugglers for the sale of oil on the black market.

That might have been avoided, and greater help won for Iraq's stability, had a pipeline been built through Syria as soon as the war ended, Abadi said.

"I think they would have protected the pipelines themselves," he said.

For that to happen, however, would have required greater investment in the oil infrastructure from the start. The system was in far worse shape than the United States anticipated, and as security degraded -- in part because of a failure to quickly restore the economy -- money was drained from the energy accounts to pay for security projects.

"The plan was to jump start the Iraqi economy" by quickly restoring Iraq's oil industry, hobbled by a decade of sanctions and neglect, he said.

"Unfortunately, there was a failure in the planning phase and a lot of money that was supposed to be invested in the infrastructure, because of security, was changed over to pay for the increasing security costs we encountered," he said.

The consequence is that three years later, the oil and electricity infrastructure are still under-performing, which erodes confidence in the central government and the coalition and undermines security.

Source: United Press International

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