A congressional investigator and some members of the House of Representatives strongly criticized the U.S. Defense Department's claims about the training of Iraq's new security forces during a hearing on Monday.
An investigator from Congress's Government Accountability Office, Joseph Christoff, said his office has concluded that information on the development of Iraq's security forces, provided by the Defense Department, is not reliable.
"Data on the status of Iraqi security forces is unreliable and provides limited information on their capabilities, " said Joseph Christoff.
Mr. Christoff told a subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee that the U.S. government's claim that Iraq now has more than 80,000 trained and equipped soldiers and over 60,000 trained and equipped police officers must be understood in the context of the many challenges facing the effort to expand Iraq's security forces. He said those challenges include problems in the Iraqi force structure and leadership ranks, a lack of clarity on the actual readiness of those forces to conduct independent operations and the need to continually re-evaluate security needs as the insurgency continues.
As a result, Mr. Christoff said the Defense Department's numbers have limited value, although he also said the performance of the Iraqi forces providing security for the election on January 30 was an important indicator of their potential.
A senior Democratic Party member of the subcommittee, Representative Dennis Kucinich, seized on the problems identified by the Government Accountability Office to question the integrity of the figures presented Monday by Defense Department officials.
"You should be embarrassed to be here," said Dennis Kucinich. " I mean, this is like Fantasyland. This is as [fictitious] as the weapons of mass destruction are. I mean, I'm embarrassed for you that you would come to a congressional committee with this kind of a phony report."
Rear Admiral William Sullivan defended the statistics he had presented.
"I'm not embarrassed to be here in front of this committee and I stand by the numbers that are on that chart that I showed you," he said. "The numbers on the ministry of defense forces absolutely represent those personnel that have been trained and equipped through our training system. The number under the ministry of interior forces likewise represents the numbers of personnel that have been trained and equipped through our system. And I submit to you it would be more 'cooking the books' if we took this asterisk off the chart and tried to represent that all 81,889 of these people are on duty. Instead, we have tried to be up front with you and admit that there are gaps in our knowledge as to who is on duty on any given day."
Admiral Sullivan explained that attendance requirements in the Iraqi military and police are different from those in the U.S. armed forces. He said, as other officials have in recent weeks, that the U.S. military is working to develop a system for assessing the capabilities and readiness of the new Iraqi military units in order to give more meaning to the raw figures.
The discussion in the subcommittee came as Congress is considering the Bush administration's request for an additional $82 billion for the current fiscal year, most of it for Iraq operations. A key issue for many members of Congress is how quickly Iraqi forces will be ready to take over security responsibility for the country, enabling most of the U.S. forces to come home. Defense Department officials will not make any predictions on that, but say they are making progress, a contention that was sharply challenged during Monday's hearing.