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Iraqi Forces Are Better Trained, Study Says

Report Indicates Trainees Will Not Be Ready to Go on Their Own Until Late 2006

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2004; Page A20

Pentagon figures show that the training of Iraqi military and police units has improved since the summer but that those forces will not be prepared to undertake security missions on their own until late 2006 at the earliest, according to a study released yesterday by the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

"Changes in the way the U.S. is preparing Iraqi forces may . . . create the kind of Iraqi forces that are vital to both Iraq's future and any successful reductions in U.S. forces and U.S. withdrawals from Iraq," Anthony H. Cordesman says in the latest in a series of papers he has produced as a senior fellow at the center.

Members of the Iraqi National Guard take cover after hearing gunfire at the police academy in Mosul, Iraq. They are trained to protect key facilities. (Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson -- U.s. Army Via Reuters)

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"It is not clear that these [new training] steps can overcome the legacy of past neglect and failure, but they do offer serious hope," adds Cordesman, a former Pentagon official who has made several trips to Iraq.

Cordesman describes as "tragic" a series of U.S. failures in Iraq that created the current problems, including "a failure to react to the growing insurgency in Iraq and for the need for Iraqi military, security and police forces that could be true partners in fighting that threat."

He blames not only the Bush administration's civilian leadership but also the U.S. military. "In general," Cordesman says, "the military, as well as the civilians, did not plan for successful conflict termination or stability operations, and it focused on early withdrawal rather than the range of missions that might occur." He recalls that some pre-invasion plans called for "a rapid reduction to 30,000 [U.S.] troops -- rather than for an effective stability and security effort."

The Cordesman report provides a background to President Bush's remarks to reporters Monday that the insurgency is "having an effect" and that the training of Iraqis has produced only "mixed" results.

According to figures provided by the Pentagon, the number of trained Iraqi army and police units is far below the number required. For example, as of Dec. 6, the Pentagon reported that 27,000 trained army troops were needed but that only 3,428 were listed as "trained/on hand." The figures showed that 135,000 police officers were required but that only 50,798 were "trained/on hand."

The Iraqi National Guard, which provides security forces to protect buildings and other key facilities, had a better ratio, with 40,115 troops considered "trained/on hand" of the required force of 62,000.

Since late summer, Cordesman reports, the insurgents in Iraq have directed their attacks on the growing Iraqi security forces.

Some of the attacks, such as those that took place in Mosul during and after the fighting in Fallujah, highlighted the weaknesses in the U.S. training program. Cordesman reports that "nearly 75 percent of some 4,000 Iraqi forces deserted" during the November attacks, and that Iraqi National Guard troops "dropped from 1,100 to 300 in hours," with two companies abandoning their equipment.

A related issue, Cordesman says, is the "problem" caused by the interim Iraqi government, "which is not yet capable of unified and timely action" and "far too often tolerates ineffective or corrupt leaders for political purposes." He cites the example of the police leadership in Mosul, which was kept "long after it was clear that it should be removed."

Today, Iraqis are playing a larger role in screening candidates, Cordesman reports, and the interim Iraqi government, "while slow to do so, has begun to fire police that fail to show up for work, that cooperated with insurgents and . . . that are blatantly corrupt."

While public attention in the United States has focused on armor for Humvees and other vehicles used by U.S. forces, Cordesman notes, the police and security forces in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq "were given grossly inadequate training, equipment, facilities, transport and protection with a lack of the kind of structured leadership . . . necessary." The personnel were often unqualified and "had been recruited without proper vetting," he says.

"Even today," his report says, "most Iraqi forces in the field have little or no protection by U.S. and coalition equipment standards."

He suggests that U.S. officials "keep reiterating that the U.S. will set no deadlines or fixed limits on its military effort and will support Iraq until it is ready to take over the mission and insurgents are largely defeated."

That thought was picked up Monday by Bush during his news conference. He said that U.S. troops would leave Iraq "as soon as possible" but that he is "wise enough not to give you a specific moment in time, because, sure enough, when we don't achieve it, I'll spend the next press conference I have with you answering why we didn't achieve the specific moment."

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