Iraq's national guard is steadily gaining confidence and winning respect from U.S. forces.
"They have been performing really quite well of late," Gen. Norton
Schwartz, operations director at the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on
The Iraqi National Guard has been most effective in obtaining human
intelligence of insurgency activities, officials said. They said that over
the last week National Guard units raided two insurgency arms caches in the
Over the last two weeks, the Iraqi National Guard has launched military
operations without U.S. escort. So far, the operations have been modest,
such as routine patrols, small-scale raids and the transport of recruits for
About 45,000 soldiers have been employed in the Iraqi National Guard,
organized into 29 battalions, Middle East Newsline reported. There are a total of 230,000 security and
military forces in Iraq.
A major threat to the Iraqi security forces regards recruitment. On
Wednesday, at least 71 people were killed when a minibus packed with
explosives blew up near a police station in Baaqubah. Many of casualties
were Iraqis waiting on line to apply for employment in the police.
Officials reported heavy casualties among the National Guard from
roadside bombs and suicide car bombings. They said that in some Sunni towns
National Guard soldiers still wear masks to avoid retaliation from
"All our operations are dangerous, especially the raids," Lt. Col.
Heydar Abdul Rasul, commander of an Iraqi National Guard unit, said. "When
we go on a patrol, we never know what can happen to us."
On Wednesday, seven Iraqi National Guardsmen were killed in a joint
operation by multinational and Iraqi forces against Sunni insurgents in
Suwariyah. The multinational units included U.S. Army special forces and
Officials said the insurgency battle against the National Guard includes
attacks from improved explosive devices as units patrol roads or leave their
bases. In some cases, they said, bombs have been hurled toward National
Guard vehicles from buildings or bridges.
"The real challenge for the rest of this year and '05, beyond holding
the coalition together is bringing up the Iraqi security forces: police
forces, military, para-military, border patrol, strike forces, so that they
can protect themselves," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a
briefing on his way to Cairo on July 27. " I hope, and our goal must be,
that as we go through '04 and '05 there will be a requirement for fewer
troops, and we don't have to maintain the number that are there now."
The National Guard has replaced the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps as the
largest security force in Iraq. The 45,000-member force has been trained and
equipped by the United States, with help from Britain and Jordan.
Despite the U.S. accolades, most of the Iraqi troops have been deemed as
insufficiently trained for independent missions. In many cases, officials
acknowledged, National Guard troops Ñ 80 percent of them former
civilians Ñ were unable to load their AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles or march in
formation. The guard was said to be most effective in the north and south.
"Time is necessary when training troops," U.S. Defense Department
consultant Frederick Smith said. "Everybody is anxious to get as many
soldiers out in the field as possible. But you don't want to rush to
failure. It pays dividends to train them properly."
[On Thursday, the new Iraq Air Force will take delivery of its first two
new aircraft. The Jordanian aircraft will be deployed for surveillance of
Iraq's borders and oil facilities.]
Still, the United States has accelerated training and equipping of Iraqi
security forces. The National Guard and police,
accompany U.S. troops on raids and remain behind to ensure crowd control.
U.S. officials said U.S. Army troops have conducted 12,000 total patrols
per week in Iraq. About 25 percent of those patrols are done either
independently or with Iraqi security forces.
"There's still equipment that would help them and still some additional
training that would help them," U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David Petreaus, in charge
of training Iraqi security, said. "We have to acknowledge that there is
still a need for coalition forces to back Iraqis up. It takes time to build
this type of infrastructure."
Officials said Iraq's security requirements were growing as the nation
prepared for its first free national elections in January 2005. On July 31,
Iraq was scheduled to convene a gathering of 1,000 delegates in Baghdad to
discuss the nation's future. The conference was also expected to elect a
100-member National Council to oversee the interim government in what was
termed as a crucial step to Iraqi democracy.
"I don't think there's any question but that people want to see more
Iraqis doing this, and first and foremost the U.S. military that would like
to see more Iraqis providing for their own security," Pentagon spokesman
Lawrence Di Rita said. "And we're a long way from the Iraqi security forces
being able to secure that country. We're just a long way from that, but they
are moving in the right direction."