Iraqi national guard winning U.S. respect

Thursday, July 29, 2004

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 Wednesday.

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 Sunni Triangle.

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 training.

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 insurgents.

"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 Ukrainian troops.

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 80 percent of them former civilians 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."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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