Doubt cast on speed of takeover
Iraqi official says goal unrealistic
BAGHDAD -- Iraq's national security adviser expressed doubt yesterday that Iraqi forces will be able to assume security control of the whole country by the end of the year, a goal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.
In April, Maliki said Iraqi soldiers and police would take over security responsibility from US and other international forces in all 18 provinces by the end of 2007, allowing the American-led coalition to shift into a support role and possibly begin sending troops home.
"We had hopes and intentions to take over security in all provinces and command of all army divisions before the end of the year," national security adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said. "But there are difficulties and challenges that appeared along the way, in arming, equipping, recruiting, and training our armed forces."
Rubaie would not give a new deadline.
"I think it is very difficult to predict a certain time," he said. "This depends on the speed of training and equipping. This depends on the level of threat whether regional or local. But we are not talking about weeks, or not even months. More than months."
US military officials have been signaling for weeks that improvements in Iraqi security forces had not lived up to expectations -- especially in the national police, which is widely believed to be infiltrated by Shi'ite militiamen.
Yesterday, Major General Rick Lynch, who commands US troops south of Baghdad, said it would take until the summer of 2008 to consolidate recent gains in his area, which controls land routes into the capital from the east and south.
Last week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, said the number of combat-ready Iraqi battalions able to fight independently has dropped from 10 to six in recent months despite an increase in US training efforts.
Major General W.E. Gaskin, US commander in the Anbar Province, said it would take two years before Iraqis can be self-sufficient in running their government and security forces.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters by video conference from Iraq, Gaskin said coalition efforts "have turned the corner . . . broken the cycle of violence in Anbar." But, he added, "you cannot buy nor can you fast-forward experience. It has to be worked out."
The United States has launched several offensives in and around Baghdad to try to reduce the level of violence so that Iraq's sectarian and ethnic groups could negotiate power-sharing agreements to provide for long-term stability.
Although the offensives have reduced violence in the capital somewhat, progress on the political front has been slow.
Police found the bodies of 16 people with bullet wounds in Baghdad yesterday, apparent victims of sectarian death squads. That number was far lower than the daily tally during the height of Sunni-Shi'ite reprisal killings in late 2006.
Also yesterday, coalition officials announced that three British troops and two American soldiers had been killed the day before in separate attacks in southern and central Iraq.
Several British soldiers also were wounded in the Thursday mortar attack by Shi'ite extremists on Britain's base at the airport in the southern city of Basra, the British military said. The two Americans were killed in separate attacks in the Baghdad area, the US military said.
The British deaths brought the number of British soldiers killed in the Iraq war to 162. The much larger American force has lost at least 3,630 service members, according to an Associated Press count.
Elsewhere, clashes erupted yesterday between residents of the Shi'ite village of Ajemi in Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad, and elements of Al Qaeda, leaving four people killed and three wounded, the provincial police said.
They said it appeared the village had come under attack by Sunni extremists who fled the nearby city of Baqubah, where US troops are fighting to regain control from Al Qaeda extremists. The police spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose information.