London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir al-Ubaydi has affirmed that the Iraqi army is ready to take over responsibility for security especially as work continues to build several helicopter squads.
“We have worked well with the multinational forces from the start to submit reports on our armed forces’ operational readiness. We supply monthly reports about the preparedness of all the army’s divisions.” Al-Ubaydi told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“The Iraqi army’s state of readiness is very good. We have a plan for integrated operations among all our forces. The army’s capabilities are developing and soon we will have sufficient ability to rely on ourselves and our own estimates. Our forces now have second-degree capabilities, which means that we have the power to carry out operations of various types. We require support gunfire that can take the form of air power or artillery fire. Most of our support gunfire currently depends on helicopters. When our own aircraft become available, we will become a first-degree power and be able to rely on ourselves.” Al-Ubaydi added.
Al-Ubaydi, who is visiting London to discuss armament issues, the prospects of the British forces’ withdrawal, and training courses for the Iraqi forces, stressed that the biggest challenge has to do with administration, namely, how to supply logistics, fuel, water, transport, medical services, evacuation plans, and repairs. He explained that these are major and complex systems that need an infrastructure. The government, with assistance from the multinational forces, is helping us to fully restore these systems.
He remarked: “One of the reasons for my presence in London is to arrange for British support for the Iraqi forces. The British forces are working with us to build our military forces’ administrative system.”
The Iraqi defense minister said that his forces are ready to take over responsibility for security in Basra in the event the British forces withdraw.
He said: “We have been working for a while to take over the British forces’ posts gradually in accordance with well-studied plans. We cannot allow any flaws in these plans. Still, we are taking the worst scenarios into account and taking precautions. We are fully prepared to fill any security vacuum in the event of a sudden British withdrawal.”
On the question of building the Iraqi army’s land force and air power, Al-Ubaydi said: “Building an air force is proceeding well. At this time we need helicopters. By the end of 2007 we will have 44 US-built aircraft and we will be able to operate reconnaissance flights in the center of the country, in the south, north, west, and east. Part of these helicopter squads will be completed next year according to the agreements that we have with the countries that are supplying us with the necessary hardware.”
He added: “We will have six long-range transport aircraft and some intermediate-range transports. Regarding naval power, we will receive four highly sophisticated Italian-built patrol boats in line with a deal worth $104 million. We have concluded a $40-million deal with Malaysia to supply us with six advanced patrol boats. We have already begun work to repair the Umm Qasr port.”
Concerning the Iraqi army’s reenlistment of former Iraqi army officers, Al-Ubaydi explained: “The Iraqi army formerly had 50 divisions. Today we have 11 and soon we will have 12 divisions. As a land force the Iraqi army has only 150,000 men. This means that we are selecting well-qualified former army officers from the rank of major and below. We will accept more former army officers we our forces are complete.”
Al-Ubaydi pointed out that the United States is supplying 25 percent of the weapons, helps in training the Iraqi army, and is providing Iraqi officers with seats at its military academies.”
The Iraqi defense minister also spoke at a news conference called by the Iraqi ambassador to Britain at the embassy building in central London two days ago. He said: “Two US brigades were supposed to arrive in Iraq. The first brigade has already arrived and deployed in Baghdad. A section of the second brigade has deployed in Diyala in eastern Iraq. The remaining parts of the brigade are held in reserve. This means that the additional US force has arrived in full in Iraq. Other forces will enter Iraq if we feel the need to have additional forces.” (In the US military a brigade consists of 4,000-5,000 troops)
Al-Ubaydi spoke about arming the Iraqi forces, saying: “The new arming policy has begun. The first stage began with the formation of a new army in 2004. We began with simple mostly eastern-bloc weapons consisting of AK-47s and simple military vehicles. Now we have embarked on a new stage of armament, consisting of high-quality weapons. The Iraqi forces will begin using light US-built weapons including M-16s and M-4s, which we will get next month. We have also received a number of Huey-2 helicopters. Next month we will receive MI-17 helicopters that we will use against terrorists and to defend the country’s infrastructure.”
He added: “During this month we will add two mechanized brigades to the Ninth Mechanized Division, which will have four brigades all in all. The last brigade is a mobile brigade equipped with BTR-80 vehicles and fast armored vehicles.”
Regarding reconnaissance and target surveillance operations, Al-Ubaydi said: “We have concluded deals with the United States to acquire King Air reconnaissance planes, which will arrive in Iraq later this year. They will be used for reconnaissance and target surveillance and to monitor the oil pipelines, electric power plants, and our borders. Additionally 400 tracked armored troop carriers will enter the service. We are getting these from South Africa. Every brigade will have 14 detachments, each supplied either with a Kroker armored vehicle or a BTR-80. The arming of our forces is proceeding well and according to plans that were drawn up in cooperation with the multinational forces.”
It should be noted that Al-Ubaydi was a staff brigadier general during the former regime’s era. He occupied important posts including director of the Armored Forces Institute and deputy dean of Al-Bakr Military Sciences Academy. Saddam Hussein’s regime imprisoned Al-Ubaydi in the Abu Ghraib jail for two years. He was retired in the late 1990s, but returned to the army with the rank of staff lieutenant general and commander of the land forces at the Defense Ministry after the US forces took control of Iraq. Later he resigned his military rank to become defense minister. The Iraqi Constitution states that the defense minister should be a civilian.