WASHINGTON, AP – U.S. military officials, contemplating whether to bring home a significant number of American troops from Iraq this year, are less concerned with the reliability of the Iraqi army than they are of the Iraqi police.
The U.S.-led training of police has been slower than that of the Iraqi army. With sectarian violence on an upswing recently, the impact of religious and tribal allegiances on the police force has been more worrisome for the U.S. as it seeks to replace American forces with homegrown units.
The Bush administration’s plan for reducing U.S. troop levels from 133,000 to perhaps 100,000 or fewer by the end of this election year relies on the Iraqi army and police as well as the border patrol and other smaller forces.
There have been well-documented cases of Iraqi soldiers and police fleeing in the face of insurgent opposition, and of infiltration of the forces by insurgents. U.S. officials say those problems have lessened.
The administration hopes it can draw down U.S. forces by transferring security responsibility to the Iraqis, especially in the face of impatience with the war among Americans.
The total number of trained personnel in the Iraqi army and police has grown steadily, now exceeding 250,000. But size alone is not sufficient for the Iraqi forces to assume full responsibility from the Americans. The Iraqis also need experience, leadership and a support system to keep them fed, fueled, armed and paid.
The reliability issue has been a central concern from the moment the U.S. military began rebuilding the Iraqi army from scratch following the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. That task arose because L. Paul Bremer, the initial American occupation chief, decided to disband what was left of the defeated army.