By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 10, 2007 - Roughly 95 of 140 battalions that make up Iraq's army, national police and special operations forces are capable of leading operations, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq told the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees today. Petraeus joined U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker during the first of two days of hearings on the status of the war and political developments in Iraq.
"There's a very substantial number of Iraqi battalions, especially Iraqi army battalions, that are very much in the fight," the general said. "Indeed, in many cases, regardless of what their operational readiness assessment may be, there may be no coalition assistance whatsoever in some of the southern provinces that have moved to provincial Iraqi control, for example."
Iraq's security forces frequently lose leaders, soldiers, and equipment, Petraeus noted. But such losses are due to a lack sufficient combat preparation, he said, not because force members lack desire to establish peace and security in Iraq.
"These losses are among the shortcomings identified by operational readiness assessments, but we should not take from these assessments the impression that Iraqi forces are not in the fight and contributing," he said.
Currently, there are some 445,000 individuals on the payrolls of Iraq's Interior and Defense ministries, Petraeus said. Based on recent decisions by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the number of Iraq's security forces will grow further by the end of this year, possibly by as much as 40,000.
Given the sectarian violence of 2006 and early 2007, Petraeus said, he supports the decision to expand Iraq's security forces. "We will work with the two security ministries as they continue their efforts to expand their basic training capacity, leader development programs, logistical structures and elements, and various other institutional capabilities to support the substantial growth in Iraqi forces," he said.
The general noted that Iraq's army is experiencing a shortage of noncommissioned officers. Often described as "the backbone of the Army," a noncommissioned officer, or NCO, is an enlisted member of an armed force who has been given authority by a commissioned officer. The NCO corps includes corporals and all grades of sergeant.
To mitigate this shortage, the Interior Ministry has offered to employ former military members. Also, Iraq now has four functional military academies.
"The Iraqi military academies -- there are now four of them -- do produce well over a thousand new lieutenants a year now," Petraeus said. "There is also a junior staff college, senior staff college and a war college. ... They have implemented a number of initiatives to improve the manning of their commissioned and noncommissioned officer corps."
Petraeus said Iraq's army garners confidence across Iraq's sectarian ties.
"The Iraqi army is still viewed as a national instrument, certainly," the general said. "The citizens again view the army with more confidence than any other Iraqi security force institution."