In his April 13 press conference, Bush lamented the poor showing of Iraqi security forces in recent clashes with insurgents. "I was disappointed in the performance of some of the troops," he said. "Some of the units performed brilliantly. Some of them didn't. And we need to find out why. If they're lacking in equipment, we'll get them equipment. If there needs to be more intense training, we'll get more intense training. But eventually, Iraq's security is going to be handled by the Iraqi people themselves."
Eventually? Over the past year, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has painted a different picture--of swift and steady progress in building an effective Iraqi security force that could soon take over many security responsibilities. In fact, there hasn't been a single month in the past year that Rumsfeld hasn't pointed to the success of a rapidly developing Iraqi security force as an indicator of the headway the United States has made in Iraq. Let's roll the videotape.
May 20, 2003: "In Baghdad, some 4,500 Iraqi police are now on duty, and reports of looting, curfew violations and gunfire are now decreasing."
June 27, 2003: "The Iraqi police force is being developed. The Iraqi army is being re-recruited."
July 24, 2003: "With each step the Iraqi people take forward, the terrorists' hopes of returning to power grow dimmer.... consider a few examples: The formation of the Iraqi national army has begun. 30,000 Iraqi police have been hired. An Iraqi civil defense corps is being formed."
August 21, 2003 (in a briefing with Gen. John Abizaid, who said, "More than 50,000 Iraqis already under arms...are working in coordination with the coalition. We've got 35,000 people, for example, in the police forces. We've got a border force that's forming. We've got Iraqi defense corps volunteers, over 2,300 of them that have come forward to form battalions to work with our divisions. We've got an awful lot of people that we've hired to defend infrastructure, somewhere close to 17,000."): "This is in three and a half months...the 50,000 or 60,000 Iraqis that have been pulled together."
September 26, 2003: "Within three months we have begun training a new Iraqi Army and within two months a new Iraqi police force was conducting joint patrols with coalition forces.... I know of no comparable experience in history--whether postwar Germany, postwar Japan, Kosovo and Bosnia--I know of no example where things have moved as rapidly."
October 21, 2003: "...the coalition has trained some 85,000 Iraqi forces in just over five months: 55,000 police, 6,500 border guards, 18,700 are serving in the facilities protection service, a 700-man battalion in the new Iraqi Army, and 4,700 in the new Iraqi civil defense corps. And there are an additional 10,000, above the 85,000, that are currently in training for these various Iraqi security forces."
November 6, 2003: "Today there are some 118,000 Iraqi security forces of various types. Iraq, clearly, is now the second-largest contributor of personnel to the coalition forces after the US, and soon the Iraqi will outnumber US forces, and soon thereafter they will outnumber US plus coalition forces in the country."
December 6, 2003: "Something in excess of 140,000 Iraqis...are engaged in providing security in this country in one way or another--whether border patrol, police, site protection, civil defense, or the new Iraqi army. They are volunteering in large numbers.... I have heard nothing but in very strong words of encouragement about the conduct and behavior and courage of the Iraqi security forces."
January 6, 2004: "And Iraqis, now totaling something in excess of 160,000, now make up, by far, the largest component of the total coalition of Iraqi security forces in Iraq."
February 10, 2004: "Now we have somewhere between 150,000 and 210,000 Iraqis now performing one type of security activity or another."
March 15, 2004: "We now have 200,000 Iraqi security forces that are out there providing security in their country, and frankly, being killed themselves.... They're taking over responsibility for their country."
April 8, 2004 (asked why Iraqi security forces have not been seen on the front lines): "Well, they've lost over 250 people killed in action, so the suggestion that they're not out providing security for the country of Iraq would be a misunderstanding of the situation."
All those months Rumsfeld was cooking the books. In late March the Pentagon released a chart summarizing the numbers of Iraqi security force troops. It tells a different story from the one peddled by Rumsfeld. The summary notes that 75,844 Iraqis were on the payroll as police officers, but only 2,865 were fully qualified and on duty. Another 13,286 were deemed "partially qualified" and supposedly on duty, while 3,245 were in training. Three-fourths of those on the police payroll had received no training. Six months earlier Rumsfeld had declared that 55,000 police had been trained. Not even close. (Despite the small size of the new Iraqi police force, it has been a primary target of the insurgents, who recently mounted attacks on police stations in Basra that claimed the lives of dozens of civilians. And Iraqi police elsewhere have been killed in assaults.)
The Pentagon summary also shows that Rumsfeld had been stretching the truth about other security forces. It notes that the new Iraqi Border Police needed 8,835 officers, but this force had not one fully trained officer on duty. It did have 8,601 partially qualified police and 179 in training. The Department of Border Enforcement required 16,892 troops; it had 9,873 partially qualified troops, no fully qualified people and none in training. Of the 40,000 troops needed for the Iraqi Armed Forces, only 3,249 had been fully trained and deployed. A mere 2,400 were in training. The Pentagon summary does note that the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps had 34,683 members who were receiving on-the-job training. (A Civil Defense Corps group in Falluja vanished during recent fighting there.) And it reports that the security service designed to protect government facilities and Iraqi infrastructure had a force of 73,992.
All told, the Pentagon summary maintains, there were 208,821 Iraqis in the various security services. But counting only those fully trained and on duty, the total was 114,789. And 95 percent of that force comprised security guards and civil defense members--not the front-line forces. Add up the active and fully trained Iraqi police, border personnel and military forces, and the number of Iraq security troops is 6,114. Throw in those partially trained, and the total goes up to 37,874. The Iraqi security forces hardly could boast over 200,000 troops "providing security," as Rumsfeld claimed in March.
The Administration's inability to construct an effective security and police apparatus has been one of the main problems in Iraq. After the scheduled June 30 sovereignty hand-off occurs, Iraqi forces are supposed to handle more responsibility. And now--in another sign that Rumsfeld's previous happy-talk was off-track--the US occupation authority in Iraq is recruiting Iraqis for a new elite volunteer unit designed to fight the insurgency. Let's hope any public statements Rumsfeld may make about this unit will be accurate.
But for a year, Rumsfeld and the Administration puffed up the numbers. When Bush addressed the poor performance of the Iraqi security forces by vowing to supply them with better training and equipment, he was going along with Rumsfeld's sleight of hand, suggesting that there are significant ready-to-roll Iraqi security forces that can be improved. These forces, for the most part, barely exist. At this point, they are only slightly more real than the weapons of mass destruction.