WASHINGTON – Only one-half of Iraqi police and two-thirds of Iraqi security forces are fully capable of carrying out their missions, the Defense Department told Congress in a new report Thursday.

The report, ordered by Congress, also said that the Iraqi Army as yet has only 60 percent of its required equipment.

The Pentagon said, however, that substantial progress has been made in meeting the deficiencies of the various police and military organizations comprising the Iraqi security force, and that the insurgents have failed to achieve their principal goal of derailing political progress toward Iraqis achieving self-government.

Left unanswered, at least in the unclassified portions of the report that were made public, was what effect the lack of full readiness on the part of the Iraqi forces would have on U.S. hopes of further reducing its presence in the country and eventually bringing its troops home.

In a Pentagon news briefing on the report, Assistant Defense Secretary Peter Rodman told reporters that troop withdrawal would depend on the overall security and political situation, not on a set timetable.

“We’ve discussed this with Congress and again in classified briefings what our expectations are,” he said. “But, as (Defense) Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld and the president have said, it is condition-based. The decisions that will be made about when American troops can start coming home is going to depend on the conditions on the ground and our success in training Iraqi forces, the success of the political process, the economic conditions and so forth.”

In discussing the report at an earlier Pentagon news conference Wednesday, Rumsfeld emphasized that the estimated 171,000 Iraqi police and military personnel now substantially outnumber the roughly 140,000 U.S. troops deployed in the country.

He said insurgent attacks against Iraq’s infrastructure have decreased.

At both the Wednesday and Thursday briefings, the Pentagon was vague about which Iraqi contingents are still substandard, where they are located and when they might be capable of full participation in security efforts.

“For good reason, (that’s) classified,” Rumsfeld said. “It’s not for us to tell the other side, the enemy, the terrorists, that this Iraqi unit has this capability and that Iraqi unit has this capability. That’s not their interest. That’s not our interest.”

Rumsfeld said that, in many respects, the ability of Iraqi troops and police to deal with the insurgents was not something that could easily be quantified.

“There are several ways to look at it,” he said. “One way is numerically. How many have the right equipment? … The other way to look at it is the softer things. How is the experience? Are they battle-hardened? How’s the morale? What kind of noncommissioned officers and middle-level officers do they have? How’s the chain of command functioning?”

The report conceded that some Iraqi units were rushed into action last year without full equipment and without establishing unit cohesiveness and an effective chain of command.

“Ministry of Defense forces did not perform well in Fallujah,” the report said. “Several battalions collapsed. Absent-without-leave rates among regular army units were in double digits and remained so for the rest of the year.”

It asserted that many such problems were being effectively addressed, with AWOL rates decreasing to 1 percent in some units.

But Rumsfeld conceded that stubborn challenges remain.

“Though they’ve suffered numerous setbacks, terrorists in Iraq remain effective, adaptable and intent on carrying out attacks on Iraqi civilians and Iraqi officials,” he said.



(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-07-21-05 2034EDT


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