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Independent US Panel Says Iraq More Than a Year Away From Handling Security

06 September 2007

A report by a panel of retired senior U.S. military officers has concluded that Iraq's security forces will not be able to take over the country's security from U.S. troops for 12 to 18 months. The report was released to Congress Thursday, just days before the Bush administration is to present its own assessment of the situation in Iraq. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Retired Marine General James Jones, who heads the commission established by Congress, says Iraqi security forces have a mixed record of success.

"This Iraqi army cannot yet operate independently due to a continuing lack of logistics, supply, mobility and effective national command and control," he said. "While it cannot defend against external threats to the nation, particularly along the borders of Syria and Iran, it is able to do more each day responding to threats along the lines of internal security."

In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jones praised gains made by the Iraqi army in its ability and willingness to defend against internal threats to the nation. He called Iraq's special forces the most capable and effective unit in Iraq and as good as any in the Gulf region, but said they still lack mobility and support systems.

But Jones offered a harsh assessment of Iraq's national police force, saying its progress has been unsatisfactory.

"The commission has recommended disbanding and reorganizing the national police, which is judged to be overly sectarian - composed of 85 percent Shia policemen, heavy-handed in their mission execution, not trusted by people of other ethnic origins," he said. "There are allegations of corruption that pervade the force as well."

Jones underscored the importance of Iraqi political consensus in stemming the violence.

"The most positive event that can occur in the near term to influence progress in Iraq is a government-led political reconciliation, which leads to an end for a dramatic reduction in sectarian violence," he said. "Everything seems to flow from this point, to include the likelihood of a successful conclusion to our mission."

Congressional opponents and supporters of the U.S. military involvement in Iraq were quick to seize on various aspects of the commission findings to bolster their arguments.

The chairman of the committee, Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan noted that the commission expressed concern about what it calls a massive U.S. military logistical "footprint" in Iraq, which could send the unintended message that the United States is an occupying force.

Levin, who has called for a timetable for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, also pressed General Jones about the panel's recommendation about a redeployment to counter such perceptions.

"You say that significant reductions, consolidations and realignments appear to be possible and prudent, is that your finding," Levin asked.

"Yes," Jones replied.

But Senator John McCain, a supporter of the war effort who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, argued that setting a timetable for pulling out U.S. troops could undermine progress made in Iraq as he led into an exchange with General Jones.

"Do you believe that if we just set a timeframe for withdrawal that that would be in the United States' interest in the region," asked Senator McCain.

"Senator, speaking for myself on this, I think deadlines can work against us," Jones said.

This is the latest in a series of reports to Congress on the war effort ahead of the Bush administration's report to lawmakers next week by the top commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The administration has urged members of Congress to wait for that status report before making their own assessments of the situation in Iraq.

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