The U.S. Army general in charge of training Iraq's new security forces says the new Iraqi army will be fully in place by the end of the year, but it will need additional time to become fully capable. The general spoke Tuesday at the Pentagon..
Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey says the effort is on track to finish building Iraq's new army by the end of this year.
"The Iraqi army will be built by the end of this calendar year," said General Dempsey. "All of the pieces and parts and processes will be in place by the end of calendar year '06. Iraqis will be fully capable of recruiting, vetting, inducting, training, forming into units, putting them in barracks, sending them out the gate to perform their missions."
But General Dempsey acknowledges that the Iraqi army, police and the ministries that support them are all 'immature,' and will need time to learn how perform all their varied functions effectively enough to end the need for foreign forces in the country.
The general says he is encouraged by the competence and enthusiasm of new recruits as they graduate from basic training, but he says more work is needed to ensure those new soldiers and police officers are well led.
"What worries is that we then turn them over to a police chief who may have bad habits from former times or a mid-grade army officer who believes leadership is an entitlement, not a responsibility," he said. "And so the constant effort we make is at developing leaders who are worthy, frankly, of leading these young men."
General Dempsey says progress is being made on the leadership issue, and many of the new Iraqi officers are doing very well.
At the same time, the general and his training command are only starting to work with Iraq's newly named ministers of defense and interior, and he predicts that the coalition will need to continue working closely with those ministries for at least two more years. He would not say when he thinks there can be significant reductions of foreign forces in Iraq, but he says he likes what he has seen so far of the new Iraqi troops.
"This is an army that has been built while in contact with the enemy, and has been in some horrific fights, has taken some significant casualties, and has demonstrated a certain courage and resilience, that frankly, having been in the region for four or five years, I was very encouraged to see," noted General Dempsey.
General Dempsey also defended the effort to equip the new Iraqi security forces, which has been criticized by a senior retired general as inadequate. Dempsey says the Iraqis have, or will soon have, equipment that is adequate to their main mission - fighting insurgents. He says heavier equipment would be needed to defend Iraq against a foreign threat.
The general, who is a senior member of the coalition command in Iraq, says the next main challenge for the coalition and the new Iraqi government is to get control of the country's many private and ethnic militias.
He endorsed the National Reconciliation Plan presented by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, as long as it does not involve forgiving Al-Qaida terrorists. He says such an approach is needed in order to provide a basis for convincing the militias to disarm and integrate their fighters into the army and police forces. General Dempsey says the coalition may convert some of its training facilities into 'reintegration centers' for militia members who are ready to join the government forces.