U.S. to help Iraq security for another 10 years, says general

Iraq’s military and police are far from being self-sufficient despite the expected addition of 80,000 forces within a year, according to the U.S. general in charge of training Iraq’s security forces.

Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik told lawmakers Thursday that Iraq should be able to take charge of its internal security by 2012. But it will need more than 10 years to defend its external borders — a timeline that could spark a renewed political debate about any U.S. plans for withdrawal of troops from Iraq.  

President Bush has said repeatedly that U.S. forces will be reduced as Iraqi forces stand up. Democrats, including the presidential candidates, have called for a swift withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Iraq and expressed concern over the wear and tear on American forces facing a prolonged stay in that country.  

Dubik’s comments in a House Armed Services Committee hearing came on the heels of a U.S. visit by Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir to discuss a long-term military relationship with the American forces. In particular, he pressed Washington for more help with equipment such as helicopters, tanks, artillery and armored vehicles. Qadir was also the first to mention the timeline for Iraqi military self-sufficiency.

Dubik said that Qadir told him he believes Iraq will gradually assert full control over internal affairs from 2009 to 2012. Between 2018 and 2020, it will be able to respond to external threats.

Dubik also told lawmakers that Qadir had privately discussed the need for Iraq to buy more air and fire support as well as logistics equipment and other technologies. Such purchases, Dubik said, will take several years, after which more time is needed to train the security forces to use that equipment.

Standing up the Iraqi security forces shows “positive signs” and “steps forward,” Dubik said. “The forces are bigger and better than they have been at any time since the effort to establish them has begun.”

But he added that “the truth is that they simply cannot fix, supply, arm or fuel themselves completely enough at this point.”

Last year, the Iraqi Army increased by almost 55,000 soldiers, encompassing 15 more combat battalions. Meanwhile, the national police force has grown by 7,500, with the addition of five additional battalions, one brigade headquarters and a training school, according to Dubik.

The general estimated that by the end of 2008, the Iraqi security forces may exceed 580,000 men, up from about 500,000 today.

“This growth is also related to [the] budget,” he said. “Iraq’s two security ministries’ budget has grown about $2 billion a year since 2005. This is the second year in a row that Iraq’s security ministries outspent the [U.S.-supplied] Iraqi Security Forces Fund.”

The deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle Eastern affairs, Mark Kimmitt, also testified at the hearing. He noted that Iraq put $7.5 billion into the budget last year for its security forces, while U.S. money amounted to $5.5 billion. This year, Iraq is expected to allot $9 billion for that purpose, and the United States will pour in $3 billion, Kimmitt said.

But Kimmitt warned that “if we expect them to pay for everything,” it could slow down the progress of the security forces.