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U.S. Policymakers Despair Of Iraqi Army

As Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, commented, "It doesn't feel like progress when we hear today that there is only one Iraqi battalion fully capable."

Washington (UPI) Oct 03, 2005
U.S. politicians and policymakers' perceptions towards the Iraq war have reached another tipping point: There is now a widespread recognition shared among senior uniformed U.S. military officers and Washington foreign policy analysts that plans to rapidly build up the Iraqi army as a new, independent effective fighting force have failed disastrously.

The Senate heard testimony last week from some of America's top generals that the war in Iraq is going worse than ever and that only 1 out of 119 Iraqi army and security battalions can operate by itself in combat situations without U.S. military backup.

Top U.S. generals admitted in testimony Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee that only a single Iraqi battalion was prepared to operate on its own without U.S. military support. This was a stunning decrease from the three battalions that U.S. generals had assured Congress in previous testimony were ready to operate independently.

The Iraqi army consists of 119 battalions. But the generals' testimony meant that after two and a half years of U.S. efforts, only 750 men out of 200,000 can be relied upon to operate and obey orders independently in combat situations.

As Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, commented, "It doesn't feel like progress when we hear today that there is only one Iraqi battalion fully capable."

And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. bluntly told Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's most reliable uniformed hawk on Iraq, "Things have not gone as we had planned or expected nor as we were told by you, Gen. Myers."

Alarmed by the political breadth and intensity of the reaction to the generals' testimony, the Bush administration ordered its top generals into spin control mode over the weekend.

Casey claimed to be more confident in an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "There are peaks and valleys that you go through, but overall the trend is good," he said. We're certainly confident."

And the same day he told ABC's "This Week" that the training of Iraqi forces was "very much on track."

But that was not what he and other senior generals told lawmakers frankly that "Iraqi armed forces will not have an independent capability for some time."

And as the Washington Post's Dana Priest noted Monday, "It is not unusual for the administration to send out its top military commanders to clarify or speak more optimistically about operations after congressional testimony or independent statements to the media that appear more pessimistic than the administration's position."

Commenting on the Congressional testimony, Anthony H. Cordesman who holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, one of America's most respected military analysts, said, "If only one battalion has the highest level of readiness, doesn't this mean that after some two and a half years of Coalition effort, less than 1 percent of the 86,900 men in the (Iraqi) Army have the highest level of readiness?"

"The decline in the readiness of Iraqi forces described in (the) testimony is a major reversal for the United States," Cordesman said. "We expected to be far better off today, not only in terms of the highest readiness category, but the second.(category of readiness)."

The generals reported that the Iraqi army now did have 35,500 men trained and equipped, but they did not specify how many of them were in units in the two highest categories of readiness?

They also reported some 68,800 men in the regular Iraqi police as trained and equipped. but Cordesman expressed some skepticism at this claim. "We have reports of major problems in both measuring the effectiveness of police units and in bring them to the level of readiness required," he said.

Nor did the generals specify how many of the Level One and Level Two (levels of readiness) units are primarily Shiite and Kurdish, Cordesman said. "How much of the cutting edge of Iraqi forces consists of largely ethnic and sectarian units?" he asked. "Isn't it true that almost all of the newly "trained and equipped" troops are Shiite?"

Cordesman also noted that there had been serious problems in properly manning the U.S. and Coalition advisory teams for the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior? Other major unaddressed problems with building up the Iraqi security forces, he said, included a lack of data about their missing and desertion rates, which are believed to be high and rising.

Also, he said, in many critical areas, such as Basra, the primary Iraqi security forces are now completely different forces like hard-line Shiite militias, elements of the Badr Corps, and other forces over which the Coalition and Iraqi government has limited or no control and influence.

Just as hawkish Republicans like Sen. McCain are now strongly and openly criticizing administration policy on Iraq, Democratic groups are taking much stronger positions in advocating major or even full withdrawals of U.S. troops from there.

On Friday, a well-funded and influential think tank with strong ties to the Clinton administration issued a new security report saying the United States should pull all of its troops out of Iraq by the end of 2007.

The report, entitled "Strategic Redeployment: A Progressive Plan for Iraq and the Struggle Against Violent Extremists," was written by Lawrence J. Korb and Brian Katulis and was issued by the Center for American Progress, a major Washington think tank run by John Podesta, Democratic President Bill Clinton's former chief of staff.

"By the end of 2006, the United States should take out 80,000 troops and it should announce after the Iraqi elections (scheduled for December) that we should be out (of Iraq) by the end of 2007, Korb, a senior fellow at CAP and former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, told reporters.

The United States should "keep some forces in Kuwait and over the horizon in the Gulf" on U.S. warships, Korb said.

The massive U.S military presence in Iraq, now nearly 150,000 troops, was counterproductive and jihadi fighters from around the world were learning expertise there that they could use in the United States and in other countries around the world against U.S. targets, Korb said.

The fact that the much-touted new Iraqi armed forces have been making almost no progress in defeating these forces in their own country, as the U.S. generals admitted in their Senate testimony, didn't hurt Korb's case either.

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Washington (UPI) Oct 03, 2005
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