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Iraqi security forces face onslaught


By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The frequent attacks on Iraq's police and security forces not only expose their weaknesses but raise renewed questions over the policy of relying on local forces to take over from foreign troops.

Iraqi police on shooting range under US instructor
Iraqi police under US training

This policy is central to the strategy of establishing law and order and reducing and eventually withdrawing the foreign forces.

On paper, the local Iraqi units in the military, the national guard, the police and the border guard sound impressive - about 170,000, compared with 130,000 or so US troops.

However, the figures hide vast differences in training and ability betwen the various sectors and say nothing about the problems faced by these forces in gaining legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis.

Without good training, equipment and acceptance by the population, they cannot be effective. And so far they have not been.

A report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington examined the problems facing local Iraqi forces.

The report's author, Anthony Cordesman, said that the United States had to make funding, training and equipping Iraqi forces its first priority if it wanted to combat the rising insurgency successfully.

Although training had accelerated, he concluded, progress was far too slow to provide enough forces to guarantee security for the elections due at the of January.

The core of combat ready forces was really only about 6,000, the report said.

'Rush to failure'

There was also a difference in approach between the Iraqi interim government and the United States, with the Iraqi government wanting to rush training and get men on the streets while the US did not want what the report calls a "rush to failure."

The report also stressed the importance of getting popular acceptance.

The best possible effective Iraqi military, police and security forces will fail unless the vast majority of the Iraqi people come to feel they serve a legitimate government
CSIS report
"The best possible effective Iraqi military, police and security forces will fail unless the vast majority of the Iraqi people come to feel they serve a legitimate government that is not the instrument of the US or Coalition 'occupiers,'" it said.

It states that these forces will only come "fully on line" next year and will be strong enough to take on the most demanding missions only in late 2005 or early 2006.

Among the problems identifed are:

  • Inexperienced forces being put under stress with the result that they don't fight, or even desert.

  • Infiltration by insurgents or, as the report delicately puts it, "knowing whom to recruit".

  • Corruption, inertia, or contacts with insurgents by senior ranks. A national guard general was arrested in September and, more recently, a colonel was accused of helping insurgents.

  • Slowness of the training programme and lack of equipment.

    No magic date

    The report concludes that there is "no magic date now to predict when Iraqis can take over fully and the coalition can withdraw".

    The insurgents are well aware of the policy of building up the Iraqi security forces which is why they attack these forces as hard as they can.

    About 1,000 Iraqi security force members are reckoned to have been killed since April 2003 and the figures do not include those many would-be recruits who have been blown up while waiting to sign on.

    I won't join - I'd rather live on bare bread
    Salah Abbas, volunteer wounded as he queued to sign up

    And yet recruitment continues. One reason for this is the $200 a month salary plus $6 a day for food, an attractive option in a country where work is hard to find.

    Prime Minister confident

    Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said after visiting the scene of one attack: "I found hundreds of people coming to volunteer. They are all upbeat. They are resolved to beat terrorism and to defeat the insurgents."

    The underlying unease among local forces was expressed in October by a young man named Salah Abbas, who was wounded when a bomb blew up and wounded him as he waited to join.

    "How can anyone volunteer after this disaster? I won't join. I'd rather live on bare bread," he told an Associated Press reporter from his hospital bed.

    He spoke bitterly about American forces. "The Americans don't want an army in Iraq. They don't want stability. They want destruction so that they can stay."

    Such talk among those who are supposed to be allies is not a promising sign.



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