U.S. plans new, smaller Iraqi military

Monday, April 21, 2003

ABU DHABI The United States plans to rebuild Iraq's military and remain in key bases in the Arab country.

U.S. officials and Western diplomatic sources said the effort is meant to rebuild the Iraqi military under officers not linked to the leadership of deposed President Saddam Hussein. Iraqi soldiers would also be retrained in how to serve a democratic country.

The United States has concluded that it has captured enough Iraqi equipment and weapons to form the basis of a small military. Over the last few days, officials said, coalition forces found 51 Iraqi fighter-jets as well as anti-aircraft batteries and other weapons in western Iraq. The combat jets include three Russian-made Mig-25s, Middle East Newsline reported.

Iraq was said to have hidden 100 combat-ready fighter-jets. They included the advanced MiG-29.

"We will take control of those pieces of equipment still functioning," Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart, operations chief at U.S. Central Command, said.

"It would be a shame not to use some of that equipment to keep down the cost of creating a new Iraqi military security force at some point in the future -- just like in Afghanistan, when we rebuilt the Afghan National Army."

Officials said coalition forces have captured hundreds of tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles. They also said U.S. forces have captured enough ammunition and supplies to equip two full divisions.

The U.S.-led coalition has assessed that Iraq concealed hundreds of tanks, particularly the more advanced T-72 models. The regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was also said to possess modern Russian-origin BMP infantry fighting vehicles.

Most of Iraq's military arsenal is regarded as obsolete. They include the lion's share of Iraq's 2,200 tanks and more than 2,000 artillery pieces. Many of these vehicles and systems have also been deemed inoperable because of a shortage of spare parts.

Officials said the current aim of the coalition is to build a police force and form a new leadership that would organize a military. Iraqi prisoners of war have been interrogated to determine if they are suited for joining a new pro-U.S. Iraqi military. In Baghdad, a force of more than 400 Iraqi police officers have returned to duty.

Any new Iraqi military would come under close U.S. supervision. Officials said Washington plans to help train Iraqi forces and maintain a presence in up to four Iraqi bases. They include facilities outside Baghdad, Naseriya and in western Iraq.

Col. John Dobbins, commander of Tallil Forward Air Base, said the U.S. Air Force plans to maintain two Iraqi air bases for an indefinite period. They are Tallil outside Nassariya and Bashur in the north.

"The new bases would compensate for any withdrawal of troops from Saudi Arabia and a reduction of our military signature in Turkey," a U.S. official said.

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