By John D. Banusiewicz
WASHINGTON, June 28, 2006 – The U.S. general in charge of training Iraqi security forces told reporters here yesterday that effort has made significant progress and remains on track.
Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said defense establishment systems are in place and the Iraqis are learning how to work within them. "There is a pay system, there is a promotion system, there is a personnel accountability system, there is a contracting system -- and I could go on and on. In any ministry-level endeavor, there's probably 18 or so processes that have to be functioning in order for the institution to be supportive of what's in the field.
"All those systems are in place today," he continued, "but they're immature; I mean, they haven't been at it for that long. And so it comes down to taking them through cycles of things -- cycles of pay, cycles of promotions, cycles of procurement, budgeting cycles. And so some of them will come on board faster than others." He noted that while the Iraqis still are learning the ropes, they've already come a long way. "If we were having this conversation 18 months ago, there were still U.S. personnel helping Iraq figure out how to pay its soldiers and policemen," he said. "That entire process has been transitioned over to Iraqis. We have no part in their pay process right now.
"Life support -- just four or five months ago, we were providing a ... percentage of their life support, and today we provide none of their life support," Dempsey noted. "We assist them 'in extremis' if something they've put in place fails -- like a food service contract or a fuel distribution problem. But life support has been transitioned over to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense." The Interior Ministry, he added, is lagging by about 90 days. Dempsey said he expects that a close partnership with the ministries will be needed for at least two years to get the Iraqis where they'll need to be.
The general wouldn't speculate on when Iraq's security forces might become independent because, he said, so many factors go into the equation. "It's just not appropriate yet to be thinking in terms of 'independent' anything in Iraq," he said. "This, remember, is a nation at war, and although they have taken responsibility for battle space and large swaths of it, (and) they have taken responsibility for processes at the national level, they are not independent at this point in time. Dempsey used a weightlifting analogy to answer a reporter's question about whether the Iraqi forces might be fully mature by the end of 2007.
"If you were a weightlifter, I'd say, 'How many repetitions is it going to take you at 120 pounds before you're going to be able to lift 150?'" the general said. "If you can answer that question, I'll tell you how long it's going to take the army to be ready to go." Dempsey said that with the recent appointment of Iraq's defense and interior ministers, the greatest amount of effort is going into the defense establishment's systems, processes and institutions.
"Until they have these institutions and these institutional processes in place ... (such as) life support, contracting, distribution of fuel (and) provision of supplies and ammunition, then it'll be some time before they're absolutely independent," Dempsey said. "Certain parts of the country, though, are stable enough to where those systems are actually moving ahead of other parts of the country." Most notably, he said, things are difficult to do in Iraq's Anbar province, which he described as Iraq's "most contested area."
He said the Iraqi forces will become independent as the new government takes on issues related areas such as national reconciliation, which could reduce the threat, leading to more independence in military operations. Dempsey used the acronym "DIME" to describe the factors affecting Iraqi security -- diplomatic, information, military and economic issues - which he said are "inextricably interwoven." But as far as the army is concerned, he said, he fully expects all the pieces to be in place by the end of the year. After that, he said, it's a matter of the Iraqi forces, their processes and their institutions maturing. And as for the quality of Iraqi forces now in the field, Dempsey said he's encouraged.
"The performance of the Iraqi units in the field, given what they're facing, has actually been quite remarkable in my view," he said. "I mean, this is an army that's being built while in contact with the enemy and has been in some horrific fights, has taken some significant casualties and has demonstrated a certain courage and resilience that, frankly, having been in the region for four or five years, I was very encouraged to see."