|WASHINGTON, March 7, 2005 Iraqi soldiers and police are assuming more and more responsibility for their countrys defense, according to Defense Department officials. |
U.S. officials have placed the highest emphasis on training local forces to take over security. Specialists from around the world are working to train soldiers and police in Iraq.
And it is paying off, officials said.
Iraq now has 141,761 members in its security forces. This is up from about 136,000 trained and equipped in time for the Jan. 30 election. The forces include the army, police and the border patrol.
The Iraqi military has 59,689 servicemembers: 58,992 in the army, 186 in the air force and 517 in the navy. On Jan. 6, the Iraqi National Guard became part of the Iraqi army.
The training areas are turning out soldiers and units, officials said. Once the units are finished, they go into on-the-job training with coalition forces, and coalition forces embed trainers in the units. Once finished, they are available for assignment through the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.
The Iraqi 40th Brigade, for example, took over responsibility for 10 Baghdad neighborhoods. The brigade is responsible for many of the hotspots in the capital, including Haifa Street. The Iraqi military did very well in protecting polling places during the recent elections, officials noted, thus showing another sign the military is gaining capability.
Officials said the battalion-sized units are working out well. The problem is in the echelons above. It simply takes time to develop brigade and division commanders, officials explained. The coalition is working to train senior leaders and their staffs. NATO is heading the effort to rebuild Iraqs staff and war colleges.
People must understand that Iraq is an immature country in many ways, Pentagon officials said. The infrastructure neglect under Saddam Hussein was more than just the electrical grid or the water and sewage systems. The financial network atrophied under Saddam. The political system was nonexistent outside the Baath Party. The executive departments operated at the whim of the leader and not in response to the needs of the people.
There are no banks available to deposit checks. Soldiers receive pay and then have to travel to their families to physically hand them cash.
Various officials have repeatedly made the point that it will take time for Iraqis to get used to the idea that its all right to display initiative. For example, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a recent Los Angeles speech that Saddam crushed the spirit of the Iraqi people. Anyone who displayed initiative was slapped down very hard, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said.
The great weakness in Iraq is in leadership, said one DoD official. Junior officers in the regimes army have the professional experience to command companies and battalions. Officials had to examine senior officers to ensure they werent too heavily involved in Baath Party activities to command in the new Iraqi military.
Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq chief, said good leaders make good units, and growing those leaders takes time. In the U.S. military, it takes an average of 21 years to grow a brigade commander. Petraeus, for example, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1974 and commanded a brigade in the 82nd Airborne Division in 1995.
The NATO courses and other coalition efforts will begin to fix the leadership problem, officials said, adding that as the Ministry of Defense grows and fleshes out, administrative instruments so necessary for any armed force will take hold.
Senior officers in some of the brigades and divisions are in place. Staff officers and noncommissioned officers are being trained and assigned. We will help them, one Pentagon official said. Theyve made a good start. We need to keep up the momentum.