Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Currently there are some 445,000 individuals on the payrolls of Iraq's Interior and Defense ministries. Based on recent decisions by Prime Minister Maliki, the number of Iraq security forces will grow further by the end of this year, possibly by as much as 40,000."

-- Gen. David H. Petraeus

* * *

The general's use of such a high number -- 445,000 -- and his phrasing -- "on the payroll" -- suggest he was including every person employed by the ministries in an effort to promote the size and capability of security forces that many experts say are plagued by absenteeism, attrition and sectarianism.

The State Department, for instance, tries not to count personnel with unauthorized absences. In its most recent weekly report, dated Aug. 29, the State Department reported a total of 359,700 trained and equipped forces at the ministries of Interior and Defense.

Separately, the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, in a report issued last week, used a slightly lower number, 358,000, as of July. It added that proposals by the Iraqi prime minister would boost that number only to 390,000, well below the figure Petraeus cited as the present size.

In a report to Congress in June, the Pentagon said the Interior Ministry does not have "accurate personnel accountability and reporting procedures, and it is unknown how many of the more than 320,000 employees on the ministry's payroll are present for duty on a given day."

Petraeus, though arguing that Iraqis are carrying more of the burden, cited "continuing concerns about the sectarian tendencies of some elements in their ranks."

The commission's report described the 25,000-member Iraqi national police force -- and the Interior Ministry, which oversees it -- in much harsher terms, saying they are riddled with sectarianism and corruption. The commission said the Interior Ministry is "dysfunctional" and recommended that the national police force be disbanded.

"With some exception, the police have failed to act as a national force and provide enough paramilitary capability to 'hold' in the areas where the US and IA [Iraqi army] have won," reported Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, after visiting Iraq last month.

-- Glenn Kessler

© 2007 The Washington Post Company