A U.S. general formerly in charge of training Iraq's army and police
forces since 2007 says they will require long-term assistance from the
United States. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where
lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee questioned Army
Lieutenant General James Dubik about the status of Iraqi forces.
General Dubik says Iraqi forces now number 566,000, an increase of 122,000 since June of last year.
Nine of 18 Iraqi provinces are under Iraqi control, he notes, with 12 Iraqi battalions now at the highest level of operational readiness and 90 at the second highest level.
General Dubik says Iraqi forces are increasingly conducting their own operations, although with U.S. command and control, intelligence, logistics and air support. He lists a number of optimistic statistics. "Gains in the percentage of leaders in their units, the percentage of soldiers who are present for duty, the numbers of air missions and naval patrols per week, and the overall operational readiness ratings are all trending in a positive direction," he said.
"It's a year in which the Iraqis themselves deployed their forces on their own initiative, took big risks to do it, and have had success in a series of operations. That success has given them confidence in those forces," said Christopher Straub is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle Eastern Affairs.
Members of Congress welcome any good news, but remain skeptical about its accuracy.
"We need a real and a clear sense of where we are, General, in this effort, and how long it will take for the Iraqi security forces to be able to operate without us, and what the strategy is for getting us there," said Ike Skelton, head of the Armed Services Committee.
General Dubik acknowledges that progress could still be reversed by insurgents he describes as active and capable, while Iraqi forces still face obstacles in training, leadership and sectarianism. He says holding on to success achieved so far will require ongoing U.S. support. "To hold on to those successes and achieve the quality, improvements, and professionalization that we all want, continued coalition advisory and training teams along with partnership units is necessary as is Iraqi security force funding," he said.
Dubik says Iraqi officials, including Iraq's defense minister, have pointed to a general time period between 2009 and 2012 during which Iraqi forces could make progress that is still needed.
Straub had this response to a lawmaker's question about recent Iraqi statements about a U.S. withdrawal timetable: "I think the Iraqis with these comments in the last couple of days about timetable are looking at a time when their forces will be ready. So, I don't think there is such a spread [difference] between us, we are very much focused on conditions."
White House press secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday that the United States remains opposed to any arbitrary withdrawal timetable, and said Iraqi leaders agree that conditions on the ground in Iraq must be the primary determining factor.