Video: How ready are Iraqi troops?

Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/30/2005 7:46:11 PM ET 2005-12-01T00:46:11

In a ceremony Wednesday on the Syrian border, the U.S. military handed over some of its combat operations to the Iraqi army — timed perfectly to President Bush's speech on Iraqi security.

President Bush said Wednesday there are more than 120 Iraqi army and police battalions in the fight. But in reality, how capable are they?

U.S. military officials say only one Iraqi army battalion is combat-ready enough to conduct operations on its own without American help.

President Bush admits that's true, but said, “Not every Iraqi unit has to meet this level of capability in order for the Iraqi security forces to take the lead in the fight against the enemy.”

That’s true, but out of 100 army battalions, only 33 can actually take the lead in combat operations, and that's with U.S. help. The rest can only provide backup for the Americans.

But Pentagon officials say the biggest gap in Iraqi security is not the army, but the Iraqi police. The officials say the central government has no control over some police units, which have been infiltrated or taken over by Shiite militias. Those militias are suspected of using their authority to kill or torture Sunnis. In some areas, police corruption is reportedly rampant.

“The police have been a disaster from the beginning, and we're trying to bring them out of that now,” said Middle East and military expert Jeffrey White.

In fact, it's now a top priority for Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who's in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

“The hardest part,” says retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC military analyst, “is going to be to create a ministry of interior that isn't widely perceived as being incompetent, corrupt and indeed a Shia militia thinly disguised as a federal police force.”

The capabilities of Iraqi security forces are critical to withdrawal of American troops. One Pentagon official says it's time for the Iraqis to stand up and deliver.

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