A bipartisan congressional report says Iraq's military and police forces are not capable of taking over responsibility for security, and U.S. forces continue to bear the burden of President Bush's military surge. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.
The House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee examined the training of Iraq's army and police, focusing on such issues as the Iraqi government's ability to support its own forces, and how various U.S. government agencies have handled the process.
In describing assumptions that Iraqi forces could be reformed as "seriously flawed," the 16-member panel says even now, with nearly 350,000 military and police, operational capability of Iraqi forces to take on the counter-insurgency fight cannot be determined.
Saying that the Bush administration and Pentagon have focused on "numbers, rather than the quality, capability, and sustainability" of [Iraqi] forces, the report characterizes the capabilities of Iraqi forces as "very uneven".
While some Iraqi army units appear to perform well, it says, Iraqi police have received less attention and have not been monitored sufficiently by U.S. and coalition partners.
"Despite this expenditure, we currently have an ISF that is nowhere near ready to operate independently, particularly the police, and what this report lays out is how difficult it has been to reach that goal," said Democratic Congressman Martin Meehan, who chaired the panel.
On the Baghdad Security Plan, involving more than 20,000 U.S. troops working with Iraqis, the report says U.S. forces continue to take the lead, something that will likely slow transferring security burdens to Iraqis, at least in the short term.
The report says the Iraqi government is not yet able to fully fund its forces, with the defense and interior ministries not fully capable in planning, programming, budgeting, or procuring equipment, and "critically deficient" in logistics and personnel accountability.
"We have to develop the logistics train so these people can actually support and field an army that can run on its own," said Congressman Todd Akin, who is the Republican co-chairman. "That is the part that is scheduled for this year and next year. That part is not strong, but that is in process."
The report comes as President Bush faces new pressures on Iraq, notably from key Republicans, such as Senator Richard Lugar, saying the time has come for the president to change direction.
"The issue before us is whether we will refocus our policy in Iraq on realistic assessments of what can be achieved and on a sober review of our vital interests in the Middle East," he said.
Presidential spokesman Tony Snow sought to portray Lugar's statements earlier this week on the Senate floor this way.
"What he is trying to come up with is a way of engaging regional powers and also Iraqi powers, the allies, in such a way as to deal with the ongoing problems they have had in terms of violence, but also build the institutions that are going to be absolutely necessary in order to have a safe and free and democratic Iraq," he said.
Lugar's statement was cited Wednesday by Tom Lantos, as he opened a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"This troop escalation has in fact been a categorical and catastrophic failure," he said.
Testimony by Retired Major General John Batiste, a key critic of the president's Iraq strategy, supported findings of the House panel on weaknesses of Iraqi forces.
"The Iraqi security forces have taken horrendous casualties, but do not have the tools to replace U.S. combat formations," he said. "Whether we can trust these Iraqi formations quite frankly is another question. Our experience over the past four years is that most Iraqi formations, certainly not all, will either not show up for the fight, or will not hold their ground in the face of the insurgent for a myriad of reasons."
Among numerous recommendations, the House subcommittee report calls on the Pentagon to send to Congress by the end of July plans for transferring responsibility to Iraqi forces.
Others include a report on whether efforts to improve "deployability" of the Iraqi army are likely to succeed, steps to improve monitoring of Iraq's defense and interior ministries and a report on the extent to which sectarian and militia influences are at work in the Iraqi Armed Forces, and options to counter them.