Effort to Train New Iraqi Army Is Facing Delays
By ERIC SCHMITT
Published: September 20, 2004
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 - Three months into its new mission, the military
command in charge of training and equipping Iraqi security forces has
fewer than half of its permanent headquarters personnel in place,
despite having one of the highest-priority roles in Iraq.
Only about 230 of the nearly 600 military personnel required by the
headquarters, from lawyers to procurement experts, have been assigned
jobs with the group, the Multinational Security Transition Command,
military officials in Washington and Iraq said. One officer said the
military's Joint Staff had given the armed services until Oct. 15 to
fill the remaining jobs, but other officials said those people might not
actually be in place until weeks later.
The effect of the headquarters' shortages on the actual training of
Iraqi forces is hard to measure, military officials and reconstruction
specialists say. But at the least, the gaps mean fewer people to lobby
Washington for resources, coordinate with Iraqi officials and get money
and equipment into the hands of trainers around the country. Despite
recent attacks on Iraqi security forces and their facilities, American
officials say Iraqis in search of work are still signing up in large
Senior military officials in Washington and in the Persian Gulf region
say the delay in filling the headquarters jobs stems from the Pentagon's
methodical - critics say plodding - approach to establishing a new
organization with the extremely complex mission of preparing more than
250,000 members of the Iraqi police, border patrol, national guard and
army units for duty.
"It takes time to build these new organizations and to man them," said
one military official who has been briefed on the personnel requirements
of the group's commander, Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus. "The bureaucracy
of the process is necessary but time consuming."
Frederick D. Barton, a senior adviser at the Center of Strategic and
International Studies here and one of the authors of a new report that
assesses Iraqi security and reconstruction measures, said, "The fact
that Petraeus, who is really the poster boy for doing things quite well
over there, is still building his team shows that this doesn't have that
urgency that you've got to have."
Mr. Barton, a former senior United Nations official overseeing refugee
affairs, disclosed the shortfalls at a seminar here on Iraq last week,
citing an American official in Iraq as the source of the information.
Military officials in Washington and Iraq later confirmed the
Chronic personnel shortages in the headquarters of L. Paul Bremer III,
the former senior American administrator of Iraq, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo
S. Sanchez, the former American ground commander in the country,
hampered their ability to oversee reconstruction and security missions,
military officials said.
To ensure that training and equipping Iraqi forces continues apace,
General Petraeus, one the Army's most highly regarded officers, has gone
to extraordinary lengths to borrow top lawyers, training experts and
other specialists from the Pentagon, West Point, American commands
worldwide and even from British forces in Iraq, to tide him over until
his permanent staff arrives. He is also relying on civilian contractors,
General Petraeus's efforts are deemed so important that Gen. Richard B.
Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. George W.
Casey, Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, are personally
monitoring the command's staffing levels, and ensuring that it gets
first-rate temporary help until permanent staff members arrive, military
and Pentagon officials said. For example, one of General Myers's top
military lawyers is on loan to General Petraeus for six months.
But some lawmakers and reconstruction specialists have criticized the
Pentagon's approach, arguing that the train-and-equip mission in Iraq is
too important and too urgent to be left to wend its way through the
cumbersome military bureaucracy. Those officials say the Pentagon's
handling of the headquarters staffing matter reflects serious flaws in
how the administration is tackling the increasingly difficult problem of
providing security and stability in Iraq.
"This is a damn joke," Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the
ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee who met with
American commanders in Iraq in late June, said in a telephone interview.
"Petraeus and the military guys aren't the problem. They know what they
need. But there's no sense of urgency in this administration."
Pentagon and State Department officials deny that accusation and insist
that training and equipping Iraqi forces to assume more and more
responsibility for their country's security is a top priority for the
administration and necessary before the 140,000 American forces in Iraq
can begin withdrawing.
These officials say the training of Iraqi forces is moving ahead well.
"We're making good progress," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
told soldiers last week at Fort Campbell, Ky. "They've had some bad
setbacks when they weren't fully trained or fully equipped. But for the
most part, they are doing a darned good job as their chain of command
system is developed."
But on Sunday, four Senate Republicans - Richard G. Lugar of Indiana,
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Chuck Hagel of
Nebraska; John McCain of Arizona; and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -
criticized the administration for the problems facing American troops in
"We're in trouble, we're in deep trouble in Iraq," Mr. Hagel said on the
CBS News program "Face the Nation."
The training of Iraqi security forces has become a central issue ahead
of the Iraqi election, scheduled for January, and the American election
in November. Mr. Rumsfeld and General Myers said earlier this month that
the American strategy to retake rebel-held strongholds in Iraq,
especially in the so-called Sunni triangle north and west of Baghdad,
would rely on training and equipping enough Iraqis to take a lead role.
But General Myers said the Iraqis would not be ready until the end of
the year to join American forces in any assault against the rebel havens
and then keep the peace afterward. Some administration officials express
concern that if significant parts of the Sunni areas cannot be secured
by January, it may be impossible to hold a nationwide election that
would be seen as legitimate.
The administration said last week that it would shift $1.8 billion from
reconstruction projects to law enforcement and security, principally to
train and equip an additional 80,000 police officers, border guards and
soldiers, and build facilities for them.
As violence increases across Iraq, military officials here report
growing tensions between Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and General Petraeus.
Dr. Allawi wants more Iraqi security forces and wants them more quickly,
but General Petraeus, mindful of the Iraqis' woeful performance in April
against an insurgents in Falluja and Najaf, wants to give them more
training before they hit the streets. So far, General Petraeus's view
has prevailed, officials said.
Dr. Allawi is said to be eager to get Iraqi troops into battle, and at a
recent tour of the American-sponsored training facilities near Baghdad
International Airport, he watched as Iraqi recruits drilled.
Evidently pleased, Dr. Allawi told the recruits that their work was just
beginning. "There will be battles coming, and we will destroy the
enemy," he told the Iraqi soldiers standing before him. "Whatever you
need, let me know."
General Petraeus, who commanded the 101st Airborne Division during the
invasion of Iraq in 2003, assumed his new job in June. He works closely
with the Iraqi Defense and Interior Ministries, as well as with the
American commanders whose troops are conducting much of the training.
Last week, the Army Reserve announced that 800 soldiers from the 98th
Division, based in Rochester, N.Y., would be sent to Iraq during the
next nine weeks to assume a lead training role. It will be the unit's
first overseas deployment since World War II.
General Petraeus inherited a smaller organization when he took over, and
he has had to build a broader headquarters largely from scratch. Troops
with particular specialties were identified for yearlong tours, and in
some cases activated from the Reserve or National Guard.
Commanders in Iraq say General Petraeus's headquarters has provided
crucial help in cutting through bureaucratic delays. "They were very
helpful in getting us a battalion set of equipment that in the past
would have taken much longer to get," Col. Michael Rounds, who commands
the Army's Stryker brigade in northern Iraq, said in a telephone
interview from Mosul.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi security forces are growing steadily. As late as
this summer, Mr. Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials frequently
boasted that the Iraqi ranks had swelled to more than 200,000. Since
early August, however, Mr. Rumsfeld has been careful to note that only
about half of those forces are sufficiently trained and equipped.
American officials and commanders praised the performance of the Iraqi
commando battalion, counterterrorist force and two so-called
interventional battalions that fought last month in Najaf against
loyalists to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.
"Their capabilities are still uneven, but they're improving as we arm
and equip them better, improve their infrastructure, give them
additional training, and help them weed out the weak leaders," one
American general said. "Nothing's quick in Iraq and nothing's easy."
Dexter Filkins contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article.