Iraqi Army Unable To Take Over Within A Year, Report Says

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007

Iraq's army, despite measurable progress, will be unable to take over internal security from U.S. forces in the next 12 to 18 months and "cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven," according to a report on the Iraqi security forces published today.

The report, prepared by a commission of retired senior U.S. military officers, describes the 25,000-member Iraqi national police force and the Interior Ministry, which controls it, as riddled with sectarianism and corruption. The ministry, it says, is "dysfunctional" and is "a ministry in name only." The commission recommended that the national police force be disbanded.

Although citing recent "tactical success" and favorable "strategic implications" resulting from the Bush administration's current war strategy, the commission recommends that U.S. troops in Iraq be "retasked" in early 2008 to protect critical infrastructure and guard against border threats from Iran and Syria, while gradually turning internal security over to Iraqi forces despite their deficiencies.

The assessment by the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq is one of several independent progress reports ordered by Congress for delivery before the administration presents its own scorecard next week. Members of the 20-member group, headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, traveled throughout Iraq over the summer and met with hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi officials as well as leading nongovernmental experts on the Iraqi forces. Jones will present the 152-page document, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, in testimony today before the Senate and House Armed Services committees.

As he ended a year in charge of training the Iraqi security forces in 2005, then-Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus said that Iraq's military had made "enormous progress" and that its readiness to take over from U.S. forces was growing "with each passing week." President Bush said of the Iraqi forces, "As they stand up, we'll stand down."

The report expresses concern about what it calls the massive U.S. military logistical "footprint" in Iraq and its effect on perceptions and problems. "The unintended message conveyed is one of 'permanence,' an occupying force, as it were," the report says. It recommends reconsideration of "efficiency, necessity . . . and cost" and calls for "significant reductions, consolidations and realignments" of U.S. forces.

All of Iraq's 18 provinces should be transferred to government control, the report says -- only seven currently have that status -- and a formal status-of-forces agreement should be pursued with the Iraqi government. "We believe that all [U.S.] bases in Iraq should demonstrate evidence of Iraqi sovereignty," including flying the Iraqi flag, the report says. "There is a fine line," it says, "between assistance and dependence."

Although the administration has said repeatedly that security improvements will create "breathing space" for Iraqi sectarian and political forces to move toward national reconciliation, the commission turns that equation on its head, saying that long-term security advances are impossible without political progress.

Despite all that remains to be done on the military front, it says, "the single most important event that could immediately and favorably affect Iraq's direction and security is political reconciliation. . . . Sustained progress within the Iraqi Security Forces depends on such a political agreement." All progress, it concludes, "seems to flow from this most pressing requirement."

In a separate development, the effectiveness of joint U.S. civilian-military reconstruction teams in Iraq was questioned yesterday by the government agency that audits U.S. programs there. The $2 billion Provincial Reconstruction Team program is designed to reach out beyond the central government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad with locally based employment and reconstruction assistance.

In testimony before a House subcommittee, Ginger Cruz, the deputy special inspector for Iraq reconstruction, said that the program is "one of the most valuable the U.S. runs in Iraq" but is underfunded, lacks clear objectives and suffers from repeated leadership changes. She said that fewer than 5 percent of PRT staff members have the cultural knowledge and Arabic-language skills needed to work with Iraqis.

The administration -- whose own Iraq progress report will be delivered in testimony next week by Petraeus, now a four-star general and the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, as well as through a written White House assessment -- has said little about the independent scorecards, including a critical assessment yesterday by the Government Accountability Office.

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