BAGHDAD -- Some of the past problems with Iraqi troops may have been the result of giving them too much responsibility too soon, the US commanding general in Iraq said yesterday, insisting that the United States will only hand over security duties once the Iraqis prove they are ready.
There is a system for evaluating Iraqi security forces, and the handover process will not be rushed, General George W. Casey Jr. told the Associated Press.
''That really conditioned us to put in place systems over the last year to ensure that we put them in charge when they're ready, look over their shoulder, and support them so that they don't fail," Casey said. ''That's exactly the process we put in place."
US officials have refused to set a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, with President Bush saying in a speech at the US Naval Academy last month that as ''Iraqi security forces stand up, coalition forces can stand down."
With the Bush administration's approval ratings at an all-time low, however, there has been concern that perhaps Iraqi forces would be pushed to the front too quickly, something Casey said would not happen.
Casey, who has commanded coalition forces in Iraq for 18 months, said he was proud that there now are more than 210,000 Iraqi security forces in place and 30 Iraqi army battalions, each with about 500 soldiers, operating independently.
He acknowledged that more needs to be done. Casey said in October that only one Iraqi battalion, fewer than 1,000 men, was capable of fighting without US help. That's down from a previous estimate of three battalions.
Yesterday, he said that Iraqi police are about a year behind the army in terms of training and professionalism and that Thursday's parliamentary elections would not bring immediate change to Iraq and the insurgency.
''We'll get past this milestone, and then we should not expect right after the elections for things to change dramatically," he said.