The US view of Iraq: we can pull out in a year
The top US general in Iraq yesterday
predicted that Iraqi forces would be able to take over security in the
country with "very little coalition support" within a year
to 18 months. General George Casey did not say anything specific about
parallel withdrawals of US troops. Instead, he said American-led coalition
forces would pull back into large bases and provide support before leaving.
US officials pointed optimistically to statistics suggesting that the military focus on the capital had helped to curb sectarian killings between Sunni and Shia groups, though in the past few days the body count has again soared. Yesterday at least 24 people were killed and 55 wounded in a bomb attack on a crowded central Baghdad market, while 12 volunteers were killed in the bombing of an Iraqi army recruitment centre in the Shia town of Hilla.
Despite the violence, Gen Casey was optimistic that Iraqi forces were on schedule to take primary responsibility for security by late 2007 or early 2008. "I don't have a date, but I can see over the next 12 to 18 months, the Iraqi security forces progressing to a point where they can take on the security responsibilities for the country, with very little coalition support," he said in Baghdad. In remarks published by the Associated Press, he added: "We have been on a three-step process to help build the Iraqi security forces." The first step had been to train and equip them and the second was to "put them in the lead, still with our support". The last step would be to "get them to the stage where they independently provide security in Iraq."
The official line in the White House on the emotive question of troop withdrawals is that they will be "determined by events on the ground", and that "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down". But there is some scepticism among military experts in Washington over whether Gen Casey's timetable is realistic. Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies who last week published a report on Iraqi force development, said: "There is very little prospect that the Iraqis can take over in the next few months. They can expand their role, but we see a very weak structure without air power or heavy weapons, dealing with a country with a strong insurgency and real risk of civil war."
More than 260,000 Iraqis are now trained and in uniform and there have been high-profile ceremonies marking the transfer of authority from coalition to Iraqi troops in small, the relatively quiet, areas. But troop numbers and transfer ceremonies are not always an accurate measure of force strength.
"Some maps showed Iraqi forces as in charge of areas where militias and local security forces had day-to-day authority," Professor Cordesman said.
Daniel Goure, a Pentagon adviser and analyst at the Lexington Institute, argued the question of loyalty may prove more important than training and equipment. Ministry of interior forces have been infiltrated by Shia militias operating as anti-Sunni death squads. The ministry is supposed to be undergoing restructuring but there was "very little evidence" that this had solved the problem. The army has a better reputation for cohesion. In the past few days its mostly Shia troops have engaged in heavy fighting with a militia loyal to the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
But ultimately, Mr Goure added, military planning is governed as much by politics in the US as by events in Iraq, and the timetable is driven by George Bush's remaining term in office.
Please help our fight against the New World Order by giving a donation. As bandwidth costs increase, the only way we can stay online and expand is with your support. Please consider giving a monthly or one-off donation for whatever you can afford. You can pay securely by either credit card or Paypal. Click here to donate.