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Some Iraq report changes sound familiar

The new Iraq policy report calls for a broad swath of changes in the role U.S forces play in Iraq, but for military leaders, many of the proposals sound strikingly familiar.
Iraq Study Group Co-Chairmen James A. Baker III, standing, left and Lee Hamilton presented the Iraq Study Group report at a news conference Wednesday.Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The new Iraq policy report calls for a broad swath of changes in the role U.S forces play in Iraq, but for military leaders, many of the proposals sound strikingly familiar.

After eight months of study, the Iraq Study Group urged a more aggressive military campaign of training and equipping the Iraqis - an effort already under way. And it said most of the U.S. combat troops should be pulled out of Iraq by early 2008, depending on security developments "on the ground" - a goal that echoes Pentagon officials' oft-repeated assertion that U.S. forces would be withdrawn based on the conditions in Iraq.

While the report unveils few new military options, it casts a greater sense of urgency on the transfer of combat responsibilities to the Iraqis. "Given the ongoing deterioration in the security situation, it is urgent to move as quickly as possible to have that security role taken over by Iraqi security forces," the authors wrote.

Nothing new in report?
The report confirmed what many critics have warned about - the deteriorating relationship between the military's top commanders and their civilian leaders, a charge long denied by outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

It also said U.S. military and intelligence officials have systematically underreported the violence in Iraq to suit the Bush administration's policy goals. It cited a day in July when U.S. officials reported 93 attacks or significant acts of violence; further review found 1,100 acts of violence.

The Pentagon had little official comment Wednesday on the report.

"We're trying to reinforce success all the time," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. "We're adding to the training teams, we know they can be very valuable."

'Naive and simplistic' recommendations
But in quiet rumblings defense officials have given the recommendations a dismissive shrug. They would argue there is nothing there they hadn't already thought of, talked about and, in many cases, put into play.

"Their recommendations range from the blindingly obvious, to the naive and simplistic, to the interesting but underdeveloped," said Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

And military analyst Anthony Corpsman described it as "an elephant gives birth to a mouse."

"We wasted three years so what are we going to do, demand instant success now?" he said. "One of the problems we have here is having sent the bull in to liberate the china shop, we are now blaming the china shop for breaking the china."

The Iraq panel lays out a plan to shift U.S. forces from combat jobs to largely supportive roles within Iraqi Army units, and it calls for a significant increase in the number of American troops embedded with the Iraqis.

Specifically, the panel recommended a boost from the current total of about 5,000 - according to Pentagon figures - to as many as 20,000. And the report called for Iraqi control of its army by next April, and self-reliance with some support from the United States by December 2007.

"We are just beginning to put people with formal training in as our embedded advisers and only about half of them have the training, much less the practical experience," said Cordesman. "So how we can rush those forward?"

Recommendations already underway
According to the military, there are 400 transition teams already working with the Iraqi Security Forces, and the number of on-the-job advisers is growing by up to hundreds each week. There are 10-12 advisers in each team, but defense officials are considering expanding them.

The transfer of authority to the Iraqi units is slow and fraught with problems ranging from initial desertion issues to sectarian tensions, particularly between some Iraqi police units and the populace. But to date, according to the Pentagon, the U.S. military has trained 134,700 Iraqi military - largely army soldiers - and an additional 188,300 local and national police and border patrols.

And, although the Iraqi army is still heavily dependent on U.S. and coalition forces for logistical support, seven of the 10 Iraqi Divisions are taking the lead in operations, as are 30 of the 36 Iraqi brigades and 91 of the 112 Iraqi battalions.

There are currently about 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Military-civilian partnership 'frayed'
recommendations aimed at agencies and the administration as a whole, the panel took direct aim at Rumsfeld, who offered his resignation the day after Democrats swept control of the House and Senate.

Saying there has been a long tradition of partnership between the military and civilian leaders, the group said the "tradition has frayed" and must be repaired. It urged the new defense secretary, former CIA director Robert Gates, to "make every effort" to encourage military officers to offer independent advice.

Gates, who will be sworn in as the 22nd secretary of defense on Dec. 18, said the report will not likely be the last word on the Iraq situation.

"Frankly, there are no new ideas on Iraq. The list of tactics, the list of strategies, the list of approaches, is pretty much out there," said Gates, a former member of the Iraq panel, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee earlier this week. "And the question is: Is there a way to put pieces of those different proposals together in a way that provides a path forward?"