Iraqi Army Not Ready to Defend Fallujah

The Associated Press
Monday, November 27, 2006; 11:26 PM

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- It's been two years since U.S. forces cleared out this dangerous western city, the bloodiest urban combat of the Iraq war. But Iraqi soldiers still aren't ready to stop Fallujah from becoming an insurgent stronghold again.

U.S. teams say training efforts have been undermined by corruption, a dearth of basic equipment and Iraqi soldiers' mistrust of those from different Muslim backgrounds and lack of faith in the government.

Iraqi commanders acknowledge they can't handle a city as large and volatile as Fallujah without American support _ especially with the country teetering on the edge of civil war between the Shiite majority and Sunni minority.

"It's something we keep in mind, that one day coalition forces are going to leave. But it can't be now," said 1st Lt. Hamazah Adman, head of intelligence for the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division.

"We can say that two years may be enough," he said.

There are more than 400 U.S. adviser teams in Iraq, and Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has said he recommends expanding those teams as America looks for a new direction in the war.

Not waiting for Washington, Marine Col. Lawrence D. Nicholson, commander of Regimental Combat Team 5 in Anbar province, began moving troops from combat to adviser teams in January. That increased the average size of the training teams in the area from about 10 to between 15 and 20 Marines.

Fallujah, a Sunni city of 300,000, lay in ruins after fighting in November 2004. Now the lights and water are back on and many residents who fled have returned. The Iraqi army now patrols more than 60 percent of the city, helping to battle insurgents who have killed scores of Marines with roadside bombs, ambushes and sniper fire.

During a recent late-night operation, Marine helicopters and Humvees cordoned off the southern district of Nazaal and two U.S. companies went house-to-house, hunting for guns, explosives and insurgents. An Iraqi company backed by three American advisers conducted its own search.

"They are our people and they are just doing their duty," said Abed El-Rahem, who sat in his socks on a couch while soldiers traipsed through his home, tracking mud on the fine carpets.

Except for one red-faced moment when his soldiers tried to search the same house twice, the operation went smoothly, though the Iraqi army recovered just one rifle in four hours of looking.

"Things are so violent that the people can't come to us for help, so we come to them," said Col. Abd al-Majeed Nasser, who led the raid.

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