Troops show up, but not in force

Iraqi brigades go to Baghdad, but only at 55%-60% of strength

February 03, 2007|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The army brigades promised by the Iraqi government to help secure Baghdad have begun to arrive in the city, but with only a little more than half of their manpower - at least a partial failure for a crucial first test of the Bush administration's new war plan.

Administration officials had identified the participation of Iraqi military units as an important first measure of support from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government for the new American strategy in Iraq. Previous efforts to secure Baghdad failed in part because the Iraqi government was never able to deliver the full number of forces promised.

In disclosing the shortfall, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the first of the three Iraqi brigades ordered to Baghdad had arrived, and the second was en route. Iraqi brigades are supposed to total between 2,000 and 2,500 soldiers, making them smaller than American brigades.

"There's good news and bad news," Pace said. "The good news is that, contrary to what has happened in the past, the units that were designated to arrive in Baghdad have begun to arrive, on the schedule they were supposed to be there."

But Pace said the bad news was that the units were arriving with only about 55 percent to 60 percent of the soldiers assigned to them.

Under Iraq Ministry of Defense rules, the soldiers work for 21 days and then are given a week off to take home their pay. Those rules mean that as much as a quarter of each unit can be absent with permission at any one time. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said it was unclear whether the manpower estimates of the units arriving in Baghdad included soldiers who are on authorized leave. But when asked whether the Iraqis were fulfilling their obligations, Pace said the Iraqi units need to improve.

"It needs to be stronger than that," he said.

Gates said that "55 percent probably isn't good enough," but he added that the strength of the Iraqi units could improve before the troops are sent into combat.

Last month, the day after Bush outlined his plan to increase the number of U.S. forces in Iraq, a senior military official said the Pentagon would be keeping a close watch on the movement of Iraqi forces to Baghdad.

"One of the very early things that we're going to monitor is the progress of the Iraqi government providing these additional security forces," said the senior military official.

Pentagon officials had said they intended to keep track of units being sent to Baghdad.

"We're watching them down to finite detail: which unit, why that unit, what's the training and readiness assessment of that unit, why was that unit picked, where's it coming from, how many guys got on the bus," the official said at the time. "We're going to watch this very carefully."

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