Image: US Army soldiers search a school
Maya Alleruzzo  /  AP
U.S. Army soldiers from the Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment prepare to search a classroom as they occupy a school during an anti-insurgent operation at Qubah, in Iraq's volatile Diyala province, on Wednesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 7/9/2008 11:33:14 AM ET 2008-07-09T15:33:14

U.S. ground troops in Iraq will be mostly finished with security operations by the middle of 2009, the senior U.S. Army officer in charge of training Iraqi forces said on Wednesday.

"The ground forces will mostly be done by the middle of next year," Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik told the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.

That could be between April and August, Dubik said.

Dubik declined to say when all U.S. forces, including naval and air forces, would be finished with Iraqi combat operations. He said that would depend on when the Iraqi government completes certain tasks, such as purchasing its own aircraft.

Dubik said in January that Iraqi forces could take over security in all of the country's 18 provinces by the end of 2008.

Dubik's comments come as officials in Iraq raise the prospect of setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces as part of negotiations over a new security deal with Washington. U.S. officials have said they oppose setting dates for withdrawal.

Few experienced leaders
Dubik said Iraq's security forces have grown from 444,000 to 566,000 since he assumed command of the Multi-National Security Transition Command in June 2007 and are better able to execute operations on their own.

But the fast-growing force still lacks experienced leaders and the ability to train all its new recruits, Dubik told the House Armed Services Committee.

"As I often said to my command in Baghdad, 'Progress doesn't result in no problems, it results in new problems,'" he said in his written testimony.

When Dubik testified before Congress in January, he said Iraq was on track to reach some 580,000 security force members by the end of the year but that the forces still were a long-way from becoming self-sufficient. Iraqi officials estimated to him that the country probably would not be able to assume responsibility for internal security until sometime between 2009 and 2012 or defend its borders before 2018, he said.

In his testimony Wednesday, Dubik recommended streamlining laws and rules that he said have delayed U.S. military equipment purchased by Iraq. Iraq has ordered $2.7 billion in equipment, but received just $1.4 billion, he wrote.

Army Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick assumed control of the U.S. training command last week. Dubik is retiring after 37 years of service.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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