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Study says Iraq forces aren't ready to take over security

WASHINGTON - Iraq's security forces have made "uneven progress" and will be unable to take over security on their own in the next 12 to 18 months, according to an independent assessment.

The study, conducted by a 20-member panel led by retired General James Jones, found that the Iraqi Army shows promise of becoming a viable, independent security force with time. But the group offers a scathing assessment of Baghdad's Ministry of Interior and recommends scrapping Iraq's national police force, which it describes as dysfunctional and infiltrated by militias.

The review is one of several studies that Congress directed in May, when it agreed to fund the war for several more months but demanded that the Bush administration and independent groups assess US progress in the four-year war. A copy of the first installment of the report, which includes some 150 pages, was obtained by the Associated Press.

Jones, a former commander of US troops in Europe and former Marine Corps commandant, is scheduled to testify before Congress today. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other officials have already been briefed on the study, officials said last week.

"We've always recognized that this was a long-term project . . . not an overnight project," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, when asked about the report's finding that it would take up to 18 months for Iraqi security forces to be able to start taking over from US forces.

The report was called for by Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia, the number two Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who said he wanted a detailed assessment on the capability of Iraq's military and police forces independent of the Pentagon's findings.

The panel comprised 20 retired senior military officers and chiefs of police, as well as John Hamre, who served as deputy of defense during the Clinton administration. The group says it traveled three times to Iraq for a total of 20 days, and met with more than 100 Iraqi officials, 100 current and former government officials, and a dozen leading nongovernmental specialists.

According to the report, the panel agreed with US and Iraqi officials that the Iraqi Army is capable of taking over an increasing amount of day-to-day combat responsibilities, but the military and police force would still be unable to take control and operate independently in such a short time frame.

The report is much more pessimistic about Baghdad's police units. The study recommends disbanding the national police and starting over.

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