- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The return of self-rule to Iraq sets in motion a number of benchmarks leading up to elections this January, but for the near term, the U.S. military will act autonomously until local forces are up to the counterterrorism job.

Most officials agree that subduing the rampant violence by foreign terrorists and Ba’athist holdouts is new Prime Minster Iyad Allawi’s chief goal. He has promised a crackdown on insurgents. But at the same time, he has inherited a security force of about 250,000 that is ill-trained, ill-equipped and poorly motivated.

The Pentagon’s hope is that local police and counterinsurgency forces will gain the desire to fight for a new Iraq, now that the Coalition Provisional Authority is disbanded and Iraqis are running the country.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in Istanbul attending a NATO conference, said he expects attacks by militants to continue.

“A successful Iraq that is peaceful and democratic and respectful of all the religious and ethnic groups in that country is exactly what the terrorists don’t want,” the secretary said. “And therefore, they will continue for a while to try to stop it.”

The move to sovereignty is one of five benchmarks announced by President Bush last spring to take Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship to a moderate, democratic Muslim state.

Washington predicts what will follow will be the standing up of a reliable Iraqi security force, augmented by an influx of international forces under United Nations resolution 1546. The Bush administration also will push more reconstruction money into the economy from an $18.6 billion pot. All these moves are supposed to lead to national elections in January.

“Those are pretty important benchmarks,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. “If we can achieve all of them in the next months, we’ll be doing very well.”

The Pentagon has dispatched Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who commanded the 101st Airborne Division in the war, back to Iraq with the sole mission of training the Iraqis to fight.

The transfer of power yesterday in Baghdad was paralleled by a power shift in Washington. The Pentagon gives way to the State Department as the major voice for U.S. policy in Iraq.

“We will be the dominant voice,” Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told National Public Radio.

Yet, the Pentagon is increasing its chain-of-command firepower, inserting Army Gen. George Casey into the county as the four-star supreme commander of all coalition forces. He reports to Gen. John Abizaid, the overall Persian Gulf commander.

Gen. Casey will focus on long-term issues, such as the civil-military relationship. Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz will focus on the day-to-day tactical fight. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who had been the top commander in Iraq, is awaiting a new assignment.

Mr. Allawi, who talks tough on combating terrorists, has agreed to give commanders of about 140,000 American troops wide latitude to defend themselves and mount offensive operations.

But there are some strings. What the Pentagon terms “sensitive operations” first will require consultations with Mr. Allawi or his security aides. And the two governments are setting up a network of joint command centers around Iraq. From each, an Iraqi-American brain trust will brief the other side on ongoing operations to make sure one hand knows what the other is doing.

Mr. Allawi has signaled that one of his first national security moves will be to expand the Iraqi army and bring back some of Saddam’s commanders to run it. He is said to think that the ground-up development of Iraq security forces has shortchanged the army in favor of police and the border patrol.

L. Paul Bremer, who left Iraq yesterday as his Coalition Provisional Authority ceased to exist, abolished Saddam’s old army as one of his first acts to rid the country of Ba’athists. Military analysts say the move turned out to be a mistake because it pushed thousands of Iraqis into the ranks of the unemployed. Some joined the deadly insurgency.

“The prime minister has made no secret of his disagreement with the earlier decision to disband the army, and I would not be surprised if, at least in some symbolic way, he reverses that,” Mr. Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday. “More importantly, substantively what he wants to do and what his plan envisions is bringing back significant numbers of officers from the old Iraqi army.”

With the planned enhancement of Iraqi security forces, American military commanders will fade into the background. Regular press briefings by Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt will end, as Mr. Allawi becomes the face of the new sovereign government.

“The first thing, and I think the most important thing, we’re going to do is be less visible,” Mr. Armitage told the Senate committee.

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