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Can the Iraqis protect their own country?

Gen. David Petraeus, former commander of the 101st Air Assault division was brought back to organize a 200,000 man strong Iraqi security force — almost from scratch — because until that happens the U.S. military will still have to do almost all the fighting against the insurgency.

David Petraeus is a take charge, hands-on general with a Ph.D. in international relations, three stars on his shoulders, an all-star reputation and a taste for publicity.  But he’s also willing to play the part of a drill sergeant for Iraqi Army recruits.

It will take more than show-and-tell by one of America’s top generals to get the Iraqi security forces in shape and Petraeus knows that.  In the next year Petraeus needs to re-organize and train a national police force at a time when Iraqi police are special targets of the insurgency.

He helicopters from army base to army base playing catch up in the race to re-constitute the Army and National Guard, as badly needed equipment is just beginning to arrive.  Another problem: when the going got tough in Fallujah recently many Iraqi troops who had finished training refused to fight.

Petraeus is bracing for a tough week even though the political handover has now occurred, it’s still a big test for Iraqi security.  “It’s difficult because there’s an awful lot of chatter, an awful lot of noise, if you will, in the intelligence system," said Petraeus.  “There will be an increased presence of Iraqi police on streets, heightened presence of Iraqi national guard, additional checkpoints.”

The general is also training a counter-terrorism task force, but so far only 50 have graduated in a country where terrorists strike almost every day.  Some recruits were sent to Louisiana for a six week course and then returned to Iraq to finish up.  But, as the men and their families know, it’s not easy being in Iraqi law enforcement these days.  Their families worry about them doing this work.

Petraeus feels strongly that it’s time for the Iraqi people to take a stronger stand against the insurgency.  “These are individuals who are, they’re not just attacking the Coalition anymore, that’s a fiction, said Petraeus.  “They are attacking the new Iraq. They are trying to destroy the future and I think increasingly and I hope increasingly the people of Iraq will see that’s what’s going on.”

This general may have the toughest job in the Army right now; he’s being asked to put back together the army he helped defeat while a new war is underway and the country still is in chaos.  Petraeus says it’s like putting the airplane together while you’re flying it, and even though this energetic general is a seasoned paratrooper, this time there’s no parachute.

When asked how he could be sure bad guys from the old Saddam regime were not going to infiltrate the army, he said they had the old Saddam records -- and besides, he was counting on men in the various outfits to weed out the bad guys.