by MONITOR
ABOUT one-half of Iraq's new police battalions are still being established and cannot conduct operations; the other half are only “partially capable” of carrying out counter-nsurgency missions, and only with US military help. Two-thirds of the newly-formed army batallions are only “partially capable” of counter-insurgency work, again only with US military help. These assessments were provided to the US Senate Armed Services Committee last week on an unclassified basis by the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace. Bluntly put, what the informatin means is that in respect of the most urgent tasks to be undertaken in Iraq the new police are still not independently operational and that the new army is in a similar state of unreadiness. Even so, General Pace was able to add the following: “The majority of Iraqi security forces are engaged in operations against the insurgency with varying degress of co-operation and support from coalition forces.” And he added that many units had “performed superbly.” One can see General Pace's problem. In theory it is hardly the job of a commander of an army, whose presence in Iraq is supposedly at the invitation of the host country, to criticise the capabilities of the local forces. In addition, any such criticism would probably act as an encouragement to the insurgents.

But General Pace's greater problem is that progress in raising the efficiency of the Iraqi police and army battalions to 100 per cent is the key to the eventual withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. When President Bush talks about this progress one gets the feeling that the Iraqis will be able to look after themselves pretty soon but that is not the impression that General Pace's report gives. There may be a reality check later this year; the US general responsible for Baghdad predicted earlier this month that by October there should be a full, 18'000-member force of Iraqi soldiers sufficiently trained to take the lead in securing the capital city. That is a tall order if the insurgency continues but if it works it would mark a major step forward.

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