Iraq's security forces are confronting significant problems as the U.S. military prepares to withdraw from that country by the end of this year, according to a new report by a top oversight official.
Though advances continue to be made, corruption, lack of capacity to handle logistics and an absence of realistic planning threaten to undermine the security infrastructure and equipment introduced into Iraq by U.S.-led forces, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., says in the office's latest quarterly report, released Sunday.
Since 2003, the United States has provided $58 billion for reconstruction in Iraq, the report says. Of that, almost $20 billion went to supporting Iraq's security forces, in which nearly 800,000 personnel now serve in the military and police units.
Iraqi military forces are considered capable of counterinsurgency, and checkpoints in Baghdad are being dismantled amid a recent decline in violent incidents. Nonetheless, "insurgents continued to wage a campaign of intimidation and assassination against certain GOI [government of Iraq] military and civilian personnel this quarter, killing or attempting to kill several dozen officials," the report says.
In recent months, the Interior Ministry has reported the assassinations of "nearly 240" Iraqi Security Forces and intelligence personnel and about 120 civilian government employees, according to the report.
Bowen's investigators visited Basra, the center of Iraq's oil fields and a key to the country's economic development, earlier this month. The local Iraqi army and police commanders said they would need continued support even after U.S. forces depart. Army Lt. Gen. Mohammed Huweidi said, "While the Iraqi army and police are self-sufficient in meeting their basic training needs, they continue to need assistance in developing their medical, transportation and logistics cadres."
Corruption remains a major problem within the security forces and elsewhere in the Iraqi government. As of Sept. 30, Iraq's Commission of Integrity had sent alleged corruption cases to the courts involving 2,000 defendants and some $380 million. "The Ministry of Defense had the largest number of employees referred to investigative judges, followed by the Ministry of Interior," according to the Bowen report.
In October, the Interior Ministry's inspector general reported that an investigation into his ministry's purchase of ineffective bomb detectors from a British company had been halted by a minister who invoked an article of the Iraqi criminal code that allows such an action to protect himself or an employee. According to the inspector general, "75 percent of the value of the contract went to kickbacks received by Iraqi government officials," the report said.
In August, 8,080 U.S. government-owned laptop computers were declared "abandoned" by Iraqi port officials and auctioned off. When U.S. Embassy officials informed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, 4,020 laptops were returned. The Commission of Integrity, however, held up investigation of the matter for fear a government minister was involved, according to the report.
The logistics capability of both the Defense and Interior ministries appears "likely to fall short" of standards hoped for by the time U.S. forces depart, the report says. "Although the commands and bases to support logistics and sustainment are largely in place, maintaining the [U.S.- and coalition-funded] equipment and infrastructure and managing the resources to carry out the [Defense Ministry's] mission have remained a problem," it says.
In addition, U.S. security assistance to the Iraqis in fiscal 2011, provided under continuing congressional resolutions, has been much less than the administration planned. The original plan called for $2 billion for the entire fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. So far, however, only $386 million has been provided for the first six months, according to the report. In addition, the fiscal 2011 Defense Authorization bill, signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 7, allocated only $1.5 billion for the year. More than $800 million of the originally requested $2 billion was allocated to programs to help sustain the Iraqi forces, an amount that will now be much lower.
In October 2011, the State Department's International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) mission in Iraq will take over from the U.S. military responsibility for training Iraqi police. The report notes that the INL has said that, because of funding concerns, "it reduced the number of advisers it will allot to the program."
Although INL said that will not affect the program, Bowen's report said some Iraqi Interior Ministry officials are concerned that "urgently needed criminal investigative training has not been sufficiently prioritized."