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US Defense Department Assesses Security And Political Conditions In Iraq

A new study from the United States Defense Department says Iraq's military readiness is improving, but there's still a long way to go before the Iraqis will be prepared to defend their country.

It's called the Iraq Metrics Report, a report issued by the U.S. Department of Defense every 90 days. It says efforts to train Iraqi military and police continue towards a goal of 270,000 soldiers and police by next summer.

"The report lays out that till today, there's about 77,000 Ministry of Defense forces out in the fight and approximately 94,000 Ministry of Interior forces out in the fight, for a total of about 171,000 soldiers and policemen that have been school-trained, that are out in the fight," said Lieutenant General Walter Sharp.

Not all of them are combat ready, however. Iraqi and U.S. commanders grade each Iraqi military and special police unit to determine their ability to operate independently against insurgents. High marks were given to the army's Special Forces Brigade. But, of the 107 Iraqi military and paramilitary battalions, only three can conduct counter-insurgency operations on their own, according to the report.

The report also says about half of the regular police battalions are not yet capable of conducting independent operations. The Defense Department also expressed concern about Iraq's new Border Police, saying there are "a high level of insurgent infiltration" and "a significant rate of attrition."

These sobering numbers come in the wake of a recent surge in suicide bombings. The last, at an army recruitment center in Baghdad's Green Zone, resulted in 10 people killed and dozens more wounded. U.S. officials have said repeatedly the U.S.-led coalition forces will not withdraw until Iraqi troops are ready to take over.