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Pentagon: Iraq Progress 'on Track'

July 22, 2005|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Thursday sent Congress a formal assessment of the war in Iraq that describes the insurgency as "capable, adaptable and intent," but does not disclose details on the readiness of Iraqi security forces.

The report, the first of a series required by law at 90-day intervals, provides a generally upbeat view of progress in Iraq, contending that postwar recovery efforts have the support of a majority of Iraqis and the international community.

"This process is on track," says the 23-page report, which was delivered more than a week behind schedule.

The Pentagon refused to describe the readiness of the 171,300 Iraqi troops and police to operate on their own, saying that to do so would provide insurgents valuable intelligence.

Only three of the 100 battalions that have been fielded are fully capable of taking on the insurgents without U.S. help, said Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity. About one-third are capable of fighting with U.S. help, they said.

In describing the insurgency, the report differs in emphasis from recent portrayals by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The report downplays the importance of foreign fighters, saying that the radical Muslims who have been crossing Iraq's border account for only a fraction of the violence, though the "dramatic and symbolic nature, and lethality" of their attacks have produced a "disproportionate psychological impact, relative to their numbers."

It says that Sunni Arabs "make up the largest proportion of the insurgency and present the most significant threat to stability in Iraq."

By contrast, in comments Tuesday, Rumsfeld seemed to suggest that Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born militant, was the insurgency's central figure. He said the insurgency did not have grass-roots support, in the manner of movements led by Mao Tse-tung in China or Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.

"This is a foreigner, a Jordanian, who's in there organizing these attacks against every ethnic group," Rumsfeld said.

The report says that 77,300 of the Iraqi troops are military and 94,000 are police and paramilitary. The Pentagon has said its goal is to have more than 270,000 Iraqis trained by next summer.

The report offers no prediction of when U.S. forces will be scaled back from the current 138,000 troop level. That decision will be "conditions based," the report says, meaning that it depends on how quickly the Iraqi forces are prepared to defend their country.

In a separate written assessment, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that only half of Iraq's police battalions are capable of carrying out operations against insurgents, even with American help, while two-thirds of army battalions and the remainder of the police are "partially capable."

Pace's statement, which was made in response to a question at a congressional hearing, was first reported Wednesday by the New York Times.

Times staff writer Mark Mazzetti contributed to this report.

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