The U.S. general in charge of shaping an Iraqi army raised the prospect yesterday that the new Baghdad government will not have sufficient money to fund the 10-division army envisioned by the Bush administration.
Since Iraq’s security is projected to depend on an army of that size, it raises the question of whether Iraq will have the right size land force to allow large numbers of U.S. troops to go home after 2006, when the new government would start budgeting more of its defense needs.
Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey said plans are to create a 160,000-soldier army, tapping a pot of $10 billion in U.S. funds that also will be used for a police force, border guards, highway patrol, navy and an air force.
“But they may not end up with 10 divisions in the future as they decide how to account for the budget share from their economy and apply it to modernization and to the addition of things like aircraft,” Gen. Dempsey told Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Iraq.
Asked after the press conference whether a smaller army jeopardizes a large U.S. withdrawal in later years, Larry Di Rita, spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said: “I would caution against trying to make a direct connection between a single data point and any future force levels. There will be a variety of conditions evaluated and factored in.”
Defense officials have said “data points” include political progress and the willingness of Sunni “rejectionists” to lay down their arms and join the new government. But the key Pentagon data point has always been to stand up an Iraq army that can “take the lead” in fighting the Iraqi insurgency and foreign terrorists led by Abu Musab Zarqawi.
“To defeat the terrorists and marginalize the Saddamists and rejectionists, Iraqis need strong military and police forces,” President Bush told midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy on Wednesday. “Iraqi troops bring knowledge and capabilities to the fight that coalition forces cannot.”
There are now 160,000 troops in Iraq, a number the U.S. plans to shrink after the Dec. 15 election to 138,000 and then possibly draw down to 100,000 next year.
Gen. Dempsey said the Iraqi Security Forces budget using Iraqi funds is now being studied by the transitional government, which will give way on Dec. 31 to a permanent parliament.
The current plan is to have a 10-division army in place by the end of 2006.
Gen. Dempsey said next year his training teams will put more emphasis on improving the quality of the police officers who walk a beat and investigate crime.
The force of 75,000, which is to grow to 135,000, is now marred by members of ethnic militias who have used their police power in some cases to attack other groups. Sunni Muslims in particular have complained that Shi’ite police commando units are nothing more than death squads.
Asked about militias infiltrating local police forces, Gen. Dempsey said: “The seriousness of it is more or less in that it undermines the Iraqi security forces that we’re training and equipping as the sole provider, the legitimate source of authority and force in Iraq. … We’ve got some work to do in that regard.”
To underscore the importance of fielding first-rate Iraq Security Forces, Mr. Bush started a series of speeches this week on the war in Iraq with an address devoted almost entirely to the issue. And he acknowledged for the first time that mistakes were made in 2003 when training began.
“The training of the Iraqi Security Forces is an enormous task, and it always hasn’t gone smoothly,” he said at the Naval Academy. “We all remember the reports of some Iraqi Security Forces running from the fight more than a year ago. Yet in the past year, Iraqi forces have made real progress.”
He said the now-defunct first civil defense cadres were not properly equipped.
“When our coalition first arrived, we began the process of creating an Iraqi army to defend the country from external threats, and an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps to help provide the security within Iraq’s borders,” Mr. Bush said. “The civil defense forces did not have sufficient firepower or training — they proved to be no match for an enemy armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. So the approach was adjusted.”