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US General Won't Predict When Iraqi Forces Will Take Lead

The U.S. general in charge of training Iraq's new security forces declined Friday to predict when those forces might be ready to take a significantly larger role in fighting the insurgency, and enable foreign troops to begin to go home. The general's statement came two days after President Bush cited the development of the Iraqi forces as a key aspect of his newly published Strategy for Victory in Iraq.

Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey says he is not sure what the president's document means when it sets a "medium term" goal for Iraq taking "the lead defeating terrorists and providing its own security." He repeated President Bush's statement that some of those forces are taking the lead in combat operations now, but he would not say when Iraq with take the overall lead on security matters. "I have not yet made sure that I completely understand the time horizons, but I'm sure that the definitions in there are consistent with the definitions we've been using over here. What you're asking me for is dates, and I'm not prepared to give you those," he said.

Speaking from Iraq via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon, General Dempsey provided more figures about the size of Iraq's new security forces. He said the goal is to have a 160,000 strong Iraqi Army, 25,000 elite police commandos who help in the fight against the insurgency, 135,000 regular police officers, six thousand highway patrol officers and 27,000 border patrol troops.

That would be a total of 353,000 security officers of all types. President Bush reported Wednesday that so far, 212,000 have been fully trained and equipped, but officials acknowledge many of them have little or no experience, a factor General Dempsey indicated is as important as the raw numbers. "My part of it is to build the force that then goes into the field and begins to perform. But there's a performance aspect as well. It's not just sticking (the Iraqi force) out there. It's got to actually be able to perform," he said.

General Dempsey also said a key part of the training for the Iraqi forces involves how to operate in a democratic society. He said the troops and police need to develop loyalty to the government, rather than local tribes, militias or ethnic groups. They are also taught respect for human rights, and they are educated about the need to avoid corruption, which experts say is widespread in Iraqi society. In that regard, General Dempsey says the newly trained troops are doing better than the government ministries that are supposed to be supporting them. "They are taking an honest shot at corruption, and our intervention into these ministries in significant numbers I think is helping in that regard. But, you know, there are some bad habits that have to be overcome here," he said.

General Dempsey's training command handles basic training, provides U.S. soldiers who work directly with the new Iraqi units, and also provides advisers to the Iraqi ministries of defense and interior. He says thousands more soldiers and police officers are in training and the force grows nearly every week.