- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

Iraqi security forces are more prone to run rather than fight when they are stationed in towns near family members, compared with more isolated units in the field that tend to perform better, said a senior U.S. military officer in Iraq.

The U.S. officer said insurgents capitalize on the situation when Iraqi units, such as police, are stationed near family members. They use the opportunity to threaten the officers’ families and attack less-fortified stations.

In Mosul, virtually the entire city police force fled when it came under attack last November. And in Samarra, the United States has been unable to keep a viable police force in place after dismissing the entire force for collaborating with the enemy.

But units in the field are performing much better, said the officer, who asked not to be named. The officer singled out the 36th Commando Battalion, a special police unit that participated in the recapture of Fallujah in November.

“I’m seeing more and more that the Iraq security forces are becoming more effective,” the officer told The Washington Times this week. “It has to do with the training and equipment, and it’s also the leadership.”

It is the police commando units on which the Iraqi government will depend after the Jan. 30 elections to do the sort of search-and-destroy missions now performed by American special operations task forces.

“Generally, we are on track as far as the training and equipment of forces,” the senior officer said. “The program we had laid out six months ago is pretty much on track. … Iraqis on their own have been standing up their own forces.”

There are now 7,000 Iraqis in U.S.-directed training and another 25,000 in waiting. “We have a full pipeline,” the officer said.

Recruits continue to arrive, the official said, despite a concerted terror campaign by foreign fighters and Saddam Hussein loyalists to kill Iraqis who sign up. Just last week, 21 army soldiers north of Baghdad were killed when a car bomb exploded next to their bus.

All told, there are now 60 Iraqi battalions on duty, of which 42 are national guard troops and 18 are army.

The officer spoke on the same day that Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said “some pockets” of the country will not be secure enough to hold voting in the elections.

Mr. Allawi also said he wants to increase the targeted army force from 100,000 to 150,000. In all, the Iraqi security force — the army, national guard, police, border patrol and other units — is supposed to reach 273,000.

Mr. Allawi’s reference to 150,000 troops is apparently what would be the combined strength of the army, national guard, intervention force, air force and special operations.

“Hostile forces are trying to hamper this event and to inflict damage and harm on the march and the guarantee for the participation of all in the elections,” Mr. Allawi said at a press conference in Baghdad.

On Monday, Mr. Allawi praised the progress made by his forces, listing a number of insurgent leaders arrested in raids across the country.

“This is a very important step in the activities of our security forces and the Iraqi armed forces,” he said. “In the coming days and weeks, we will achieve more victories and there will be more information to provide you with, and they will have no safe haven in Iraq.”

A review of Bush administration status reports on the development of the 273,000-person Iraqi force shows the program has taken several steps forward, and then a few steps back.

For example, since November, the command has been able to put 2,000 more Iraqi army soldiers in the field, for a total of 4,414. The goal is 27,000.

But during that same period, it lost ground in organizing and equipping the national guard, which focuses on internal security. Between November and January, the guard lost more than 3,000 men and is now at 40,063, further away from its 61,904 target.

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