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U.S. General Says Iraqi Security Forces Making "Huge Progress"

07 November 2005

Former training chief Petraeus says forces now number more than 200,000

By Phillip Kurata
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The Iraqi security forces have made "huge progress" in the past year and half in developing their capacity to fight insurgents, according to the U.S. general formerly in charge of their training.

"[H]ere's the bottom line," Army Lieutenant General David Petraeus said in Washington November 7,  "they're in the fight, and they're increasingly leading it."  He said "huge progress" has been made during the past 15 months to 17 months.

Petraeus was the first dual commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I), as well as the NATO Training Mission-Iraq, positions he held from June 2004 until last September.  Army Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey since has assumed both commands.

Petraeus said the combined number of Iraqi Interior Ministry and Defense Ministry forces has risen to 211,026; he predicted that figure will rise to about 230,000 by the time Iraq holds elections for a permanent government in December.

"There's … about 15 battalions, combat battalions … of the police and the army that are in training right now, a number of which will be out of training well before that and into the force and helping with those mid-December elections," Petraeus said.

HELPING IRAQI FORCES, NOT DOING IT FOR THEM

The general stressed that the goal of the MNSTC-I is similar to that of T.E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia, who played a pivotal role in helping organize the Arab revolt against Ottoman rule in World War I.

"Our tasks were to help the Iraqis, and we underscored the word ‘help’ because we very, very much believed in what Lawrence of Arabia wrote back in ... 1917, when he was out helping Arabs, where he discussed about helping them, rather than doing it for them," he said.

The way that the multinational force is helping the Iraqi security forces is by providing organization, training, rebuilding and equipment, Petraeus said.

With regard to organization, the general said, MNSTC-I is drawing up tables of organization that spell out who gets what weapons, who gets how many vehicles, what radios and all of the elements that make up a unit.

"There is now in fact a very well defined force structure for the short term, the midterm and the long term," Petraeus said.

He said the equipping effort has resulted in the delivery of "tremendous quantities" of weapons, vehicles, ammunition and other goods.

With regard to rebuilding, the general said that the multinational forces have rebuilt hundreds of border forts, hundreds of military bases, police academies, military academies, military training centers, ministry buildings, and battalion, brigade, division ground forces headquarters, and "all the pieces and parts that link them together."

Regarding military training, Petraeus highlighted what he called "a very important program" involving placing 10-man adviser teams to work with Iraqi military units at various levels.

"They are with every single battalion, brigade headquarters, division headquarters, ground forces headquarters, even in the ministries, the joint force headquarters and so forth, and they're helping enormously," he said.

Petraeus said that increasingly the multinational training effort is focusing on raising the institutional capacity of the interior and defense ministries, "so that soldiers are paid on time, contracts are paid, ... equipment is purchased in accordance with the right requirements, and so forth."

ATTENTION TO INTANGIBLES

The general said that military trainers are paying attention to what he called "the intangibles," factors that are critically important but less easy to measure, such as ethics and values.

"I can tell you that anybody who's been in the brotherhood of the close fight knows that this type of intangible is crucially important," Petraeus said.

The general said that a fatwa, or religious ruling, issued by some Sunni Arab imams in Iraq that it was the duty of Sunni Arab males to serve in their country's military forces has been "enormously" helpful to the recruiting efforts.

Much of the Iraqi insurgency is based in the center and west of the country known as the Sunni triangle.  The Shia and Kurdish segments of the Iraqi population have been more supportive of the new Iraqi government than the Sunni minority, which dominated the country during Saddam's rule.

Petraeus said that the work of ensuring diversity in the Iraqi forces is not done yet but he said there is recognition of the problem and a commitment to solving it.

For more information, see Iraq Update and Iraq's Political Progress.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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