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Iran, Syria & Al-Qaeda Tearing Iraq Apart.

Khalilzad and Casey linked Iran and Syria with the Neo-Salafis of al-Qaeda as forces trying to tear Iraq apart and preventing the US from establishing a stable democracy. Their comments were among the strongest US officials had levelled against Iraq's two neighbours over alleged support for armed groups behind much of the bloodshed.

Khalilzad depicted the struggle as "the defining challenge of our era" and said it would shape the future of the Middle East and global security, adding: "Those forces that constitute the extremist camp including not only al-Qaeda, but Iran and Syria are at work to keep us and the Iraqis from succeeding. They fear Iraq's success. They want to undermine our resolve by imposing costs on us in terms of prolonging the conflict, imposing casualties and creating the perception that Iraq cannot be stabilised". Al-Qaeda and Iraq's "foreign rivals" were trying to tear the Iraqi people apart along sectarian lines, Khalilzad said, naming Iran and Syria as countries which "cynically support rival groups involved in the violence".

The Pentagon said in an August report to the US Congress that Iraq had more than 277,000 troops and policemen. This consisted of 115,000 Iraqi Army combat troops, and 162,000 police and other Interior Ministry forces. But these figures, which have often been cited at Pentagon press conferences as an indicator of progress, paint a distorted picture. Only a portion of the Iraq Army troops are actually available for duty in Baghdad and other hot spots.

The even-numbered divisions in the 10-division Iraq Army have largely been recruited locally and generally reflect the ethnic make-up of the regions in which they are based. The odd-numbered divisions are recruited nationally and usually reflect the ethnic make-up of the country. The end result is that much of the army consists of soldiers who are reluctant to serve outside the areas in which they were born and still reside.

Several army battalions have gone AWOL rather than deploy to Baghdad. The four battalions of Iraqi Army forces US commanders say are needed to maintain security in Baghdad equal a force of some 2,800 soldiers. The fact that the Iraqi Ministry of Defence is having such difficulty sending them to the capital speaks volumes about its difficulty in fielding a motivated and professional military.

US officials say their Iraqi counterparts are trying to use the lure of extra pay and the promise of home leaves to persuade troops to aid in the defence of their capital. Another factor distorting the official numbers is that a quarter to a third of an Iraq Army unit is on leave at any one time.

Iraq lacks an effective banking system for paying the troops, so soldiers are generally given a week's leave each month to bring their pay home. Desertions are another problem. According to the Pentagon report, deployments to combat zones in Iraq sometimes result in absent without leave rates of 5 to 8%. As a consequence, the actual number of Iraqi boots on the ground is considerably less than the official number. In areas where the risks and hardship are particularly great, the shortfall is sometimes significant.

The Iraqi government is aware of the problem. It plans to increase the overall size of the military by 50,000, calculating that if it assigns extra troops to each unit, they can be maintained at full strength when soldiers go on leave. But that expansion is a work in progress.

The problems with the police are considerable and include corruption and divided loyalties to militias. Compounding the matter, the Interior Ministry lacks an effective management system.

The Americans know how many Iraqis have been trained to work as policemen. But with such high attrition rates and turnover, nobody is certain how many of the policemen on the job have been properly trained. Further, as Casey acknowledged on Oct. 24, some of the police have to be retrained before the Iraqi government or the US can have confidence in them.

Iraq's National Police have been a particular worry. The force was established from the Public Order battalions set up before the January 2005 elections and were overwhelmingly Shi'ite, and from the National Police commandos. The problem is more one of institution building than numbers. Until Iraq has a government its citizens respect and are willing to fight for, it will be Americans who will shoulder most of the burden in Baghdad, where US generals say the fate of Iraq will be decided.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett on Oct. 23 said the invasion of Iraq could eventually be judged to have been a disaster. Speaking against a backdrop of increased speculation about a pull-out of western forces from Iraq, Ms Beckett sought to reduce expectations of a rapid withdrawal but steered clear of claiming the mission would succeed.

Ms Beckett was asked in an interview on the BBC's World at One whether historians would judge the invasion to be a foreign policy disaster. She responded: "Yes, they may. Then again, they may not". She warned against "rash predictions" of a military pull-out. UK Foreign Office Minister of State Kim Howells earlier said there would be "adequately trained Iraqi soldiers and security forces" to take over from coalition troops in about a year. When asked whether there would eventually be a partition of Iraq, Ms Berckett said: "That is very much a matter for the Iraqis".

Ms Beckett was speaking during a visit to London by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, who warned that the growing debate about the US and UK deployments should not "panic" the coalition into withdrawing troops too soon. Saleh told the BBC: "I'm obviously concerned about the debate both in the US and Europe, I have to say, because there's too much of a pessimistic tone in this debate, even in certain circles a defeatist tone. We must not give in to panic. This is too serious a situation to be dealt with in that way. By the end of this year, nearly seven or eight provinces of Iraq out of 18 provinces will be under direct Iraqi security control".

British military officials say a reduced coalition presence would remain in the country after such a handover. This month Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the British army, said he was putting together force "packages" into 2008. Yet violence between rival Shi'ite groups in Amara, the capital of the southern province of Maysan, raised questions about the pace of any withdrawal of coalition troops. British troops withdrew from Amara, handing responsibility over to Iraqi security forces, in August. Militiamen on Oct. 20 attacked several police stations in Anara and street fighting left at least 30 dead.

On Oct. 23, a stand-off between Iraqi police and Jaysh al-Mahdi militia continued in the city. A British military spokesman said there had been no clashes for 24 hours, with 3,000 Iraqi army troops keeping order in the streets and a 600-strong British force standing by as back-up. But he said violence "could well erupt at a moment's notice again". UK Defence Secretary Des Browne on Oct. 22 said: "The Maysan suggest that the Iraqi security forces in [Amara were not] able to deal with their own security". In a continuing sign that the mission in Iraq was being questioned, a former head of Britain's armed forces, Lord Inge, recently said: "I don't believe we have a clear strategy in either Afghanistan or Iraq. I sense we've lost ability to think strategically".

British officials emphasised that Saleh's visit dealt primarily with the economic reconstruction of Iraq and a new international compact that would rebuild the country's relations with its neighbours.

Under intense pressure to deal with mounting violence in Iraq and rising domestic criticism of the war, the Bush administration on Oct. 23 insisted that it was working "collaboratively" with Iraqi leaders to find better ways forward and had issued them no ultimatum. But amid intense speculation that the administration was considering new approaches, losing patience with Baghdad and contemplating a series of deadlines for progress, Saleh in London urged coalition leaders to avoid panic. He said PM Tony Blair had assured him that Britain would "hold its nerve" in Iraq. But Saleh warned: "I'm obviously concerned about the debate, both in the United States and in Europe, I have to say, because there is too much of the pessimistic tone to this debate, even, I would say, in certain circles a defeatist tone".

The Blair-Saleh conversation came a week after PM Maliki, in a phone call with President Bush, sought - and the White House said received - assurances that the US had no plan to remove him. The series of public reassurances to Iraqi leaders appeared to reflect a fast-increasing level of angst over the war's progress. As many as 100 Iraqi civilians are dying each day throughout the country.

Senior White House adviser Dan Bartlett told an NBC-TV interviewer: "We understand there is a sense of urgency". He separately told CBS-TV the Bush administration did not have its "heads in the sand" on Iraq. Speaking after Bush met with a group of top security advisers - including Secretaries Rumsfeld and Rice and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - administration spokesmen did not entirely put to rest the increasingly pointed speculation that significant change might be afoot. Bartlett did not deny a report in The New York Times that Khalilzad and Casey were crafting a timetable for disarming militias and meeting other goals.

The NYT on Oct. 22 reported that details of the blueprint were to be presented to Maliki by end-2006. The NYT said plan was still being formulated by Casey and Khalilzad as well as Pentagon officials. But White House spokesman Tony Snow on Oct. 23 said "there is nothing dramatically new going on". Officials told The NYT Baghdad was likely to be asked to agree to disarming sectarian militias, and to a range of other political, economic and military benchmarks. Several officials said the Bush administration would consider a range of penalties - but not outright withdrawal - if Iraq balked or fell short.

Snow, while denying that US officials had imposed deadlines on Baghdad, said Iraqi officials themselves had set some deadlines including, for example, to pass a petroleum law by end-2006. Snow said: "Are we issuing ultimatums? No. What we're doing is we're working with them on the practical business of getting things done...this is not the United States lecturing the government of Iraq".

Bartlett, voicing long-time administration policy, denied any plans for a quick US withdrawal, saying: "To quit the fight would be a disaster for national security for our country". But he hinted at changes to come, saying: "What the president is going to impress upon not only his commanders and diplomats on the ground, but more importantly, on the Iraqi government themselves, is that we must devise a strategy or tactics to achieve the victory in Iraq that we understand to be in the interest of our country".

Still, Snow appeared to go farther than he might have had to in expressing confidence in Maliki, saying: "The prime minister, unlike those who have gone before really - at a much higher level now, there's a man of action who is proceeding actively to take on the challenges that we all know exist".

The ongoing review of Iraq policy may have been accelerated by a desire to pre-empt the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG), a commission led by James Baker 3rd for the republicans and Lee Hamilton for the Democrats and charged with proposing a new strategy in Iraq. Its recommendations are not expected before late this year. Some Democrats have called on the administration to raise pressure on the Iraqi government, which has been beset by division and criticised for failing to move decisively against Shi'ite militias, by setting a date for beginning phased withdrawals of US troops, at first to other countries in the region. "The truth of the matter is there's a need for radical change in policy", Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, an influential Democrat on the foreign affairs committee, told Fox News.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Oct 30, 2006
Previous Article:Iraqi Developments.
Next Article:Save Baghdad.

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