Iraqis Will Take Over When Ready

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
By CHRIS TOMLINSON - Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq - (AP) Some of the past problems with Iraqi troops
may have been the result of giving them too much responsibility too soon,
the U.S. commanding general in Iraq said Saturday, insisting the United
States will only hand over security duties once the Iraqis prove they are
Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told The Associated Press there is a system
for evaluating Iraqi security forces, and the handover process will not be
"That really conditioned us to put in place systems over the last
year to ensure that we put them in charge when they're ready, look over
their shoulder and support them so that they don't fail," Casey said.
"That's exactly the process we put in place."
U.S. officials have refused to set a timetable for withdrawing
troops from Iraq, with President Bush saying in a speech at the U.S. Naval
Academy last month that as "Iraqi security forces stand up, coalition forces
can stand down."
With the Bush administration's approval ratings at an all-time low,
however, there has been concern that perhaps Iraqi forces would be pushed to
the front too quickly, something Casey said would not happen.
Casey, who has commanded coalition forces in Iraq for 18 months,
said he was proud there now are more than 210,000 Iraqi security forces in
place and 30 Iraqi army battalions, each with about 500 troops, operating
He was realistic, however, about what still needs to be done. Casey
said in October that only one Iraqi battalion _ fewer than 1,000 men _ was
capable of fighting without U.S. help. That's down from a previous estimate
of three battalions.
On Saturday, he said Iraqi police are about a year behind the army
in terms of training and professionalism and that Thursday's parliamentary
elections would not bring immediate change to Iraq and the insurgency.
"We'll get past this milestone and then, we should not expect right
after the elections for things to change dramatically," he said. "The
election will have a positive impact, but it will have a gradual impact and
so there are still some long-term challenges here to be dealt with in 2006
and beyond."
Bush has said one of the keys to defeating the insurgency is drawing
Sunni Arabs into the political process. The Sunnis form the backbone of the
insurgency. Casey said initial results have been promising, but the outreach
effort was just beginning.
"Once we get past these elections and the Sunnis are represented in
the assembly and they are represented more in the government, I think you're
going to see the process of engagement, the outreach and inclusion of all
Iraqis, continue to build," he said.
U.S. officials have said the election will represent one of the
first big tests for Iraqi troops. Iraqi forces will be responsible for
security at the polling stations, while U.S. troops will be ready to respond
if needed, said Maj. Gen. William Webster, commander of the 3rd Infantry
U.S. forces were anticipating a rise in insurgent attacks, based on
the last election in January and the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum,
Casey said.
"My biggest worries are high-profile, high-casualty terrorist
attacks against large numbers of Iraqis," Casey said. "They'll kill a lot of
people. They won't derail the process. It will be just another example of
how desperate the insurgents are to stop the democratic process."
Provincial governors have told him to expect a turnout of 65-80
percent except in western Anbar province, a Sunni area known for insurgent
activity, he said.
"Everybody says they are ready, and they are ready to go forward,"
Casey said.