Thursday, December 01, 2005

USA Today gets it

This is part of what I was talking about here.
Another problem not mentioned in Bush's assessment: while billions of dollars have been spent training and equipping Iraqi troops, and their numbers keep growing, their loyalty remains suspect.

Some Iraqi units have been dominated by Shiite Muslims or minority Kurds who fought Sunni Arabs who had oppressed them under Saddam Hussein.

Their participation is more of an indication of sectarian loyalties than the development of a unifying national security force, says Pat Lang, former chief of Middle East intelligence for the Defense Intelligence Agency. In sum, the training program "is very much a mixed bag," says Lang. "It isn't as good as he makes it sound, but it isn't as bad" as some contend.

Bush cited Sunni clerics' recent decree to their followers to join the Iraqi security forces, saying the Sunnis are "helping to make the Iraqi security forces a truly national institution, one that is able to serve, protect and defend all the Iraqi people."

But those Sunnis may just sign up "to infiltrate Iraqi security services," says Larry Diamond, an Iraq expert at Stanford University who took part in the U.S.-led authority that ruled Iraq after the fall of Saddam. That could better position them to attack Americans and take revenge on Shiites who have been implicated in assassinations of prominent Sunnis and the torture of Sunni detainees, he says. In its fact sheet, the White House acknowledged that infiltration is a problem.

"The core problem with the Iraqi military is that it reflects the split personality of the country," says defense analyst Loren Thompson of the conservative Lexington Institute, a critic of the administration's conduct of Iraq operations.

Bush did not address actions by Iraqi security forces that have threatened to aggravate the country's ethnic and sectarian tensions. The Shiite-led Interior Ministry's police commando units have been accused of rampant human rights violations, including kidnappings, killings and torture.

Iraqi officials admitted that elements of the Badr Brigade, a Shiite militia with close ties to Iran and the military wing of the ruling Iraqi political party, have infiltrated the police, commando and intelligence units of the Interior Ministry.

The ministry's police commandos, in particular, have proved adept at flushing out insurgent strongholds but have been accused of heavy-handedness, kidnappings and even the torture of mostly Sunni Arab victims.

U.S. Army troops last month discovered 173 malnourished Iraqi detainees, some showing signs of torture, in an Interior Ministry detention center in Baghdad.

Eliminating those practices and eradicating sectarian militants from Iraq's security forces will pose big challenges in the months ahead as Iraqi troops develop.


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