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Readiness of US-trained Iraqis doubted

Report says forces are not adequate

WASHINGTON -- The United States has invested $19 billion to train and equip nearly 350,000 Iraqi soldiers and police since it toppled Saddam Hussein, but the ability of those forces to provide security for the country remains in doubt, according to the results of a bipartisan congressional investigation to be released today.

As a result, President Bush's pledge to "stand down" US troops in Iraq as Iraqi forces "stand up" remains unfulfilled. Instead, US troop numbers and operations have escalated in recent months, while overall levels of violence have not decreased.

Despite the substantial number of Iraqi security forces and their increasing willingness to fight -- demonstrated by rising numbers of casualties -- their progress remains mixed toward taking full responsibility for the nation's security, according to a report on the investigation by the oversight panel of the House Armed Services Committee. US commanders now predict that it will take years and tens of thousands more Iraqi soldiers and police to achieve that goal.

The Pentagon "cannot report in detail how many of the 346,500 Iraqi military and police personnel that the coalition trained are operational today," according to the 250-page report. Details of the document were provided to the Washington Post by congressional staff.

"We have no idea what our $19 billion has gotten us," said Representative Martin Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, noting that the US investment represents $55,000 per Iraqi recruit.

The Defense Department "can't tell us how well the Iraqis perform their missions or even plan them," he said. "The police are in particularly bad shape, although they are critical to counterinsurgency."

The lack of transparency is especially worrisome, the report said, because of the possibility that Iraqi forces trained and equipped by the United States have quit to join the insurgency or sectarian militias.

The subcommittee's report found "strong evidence" that some Iraqi forces trained by the US-led military coalition are involved in sectarian violence and other illegal activities. In addition, the Pentagon "cannot account for whether coalition-issued weapons have been stolen or turned against US forces," the report said.

The $19 billion in appropriations -- roughly $5 billion each fiscal year since 2004 -- has primarily gone toward recruiting, training, and equipping Iraqi security forces, but also includes funding for building training centers, logistics, and creating an Iraqi leadership structure in the Iraqi ministries of defense and interior.

The report criticized as "premature and ill-advised" the US decision to transfer responsibility for vetting the Iraqi police to the national government early this year, after only a year of focused effort in generating police forces. It said that police remain ineffective and their organization "riddled with corruption and sectarian influence." Tens of thousands of police have been hired outside of the US-led training program, it said.

Regarding the Iraqi Army, the report found that the Pentagon lacks clear measures of the number of soldiers on the job and their ability to conduct operations, particularly away from their home bases.