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September 13, 2005
Iraqi Forces Training Faster Than Expected?

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani surprised Washington and the press corps with his suggestion that Iraqi security forces have rebounded well enough that the US could consider a significant withdrawal by year's end, perhaps a drawdown by as much as one-third if all goes well. That statement might unsettle such critics of the administration such as Joe Biden, who claimed that the US bungled the training of Iraqi troops and as recently as January insisted that Iraq only had 4,000 trained soldiers:

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in an interview yesterday that the United States could withdraw as many as 50,000 troops by the end of the year, declaring there are enough Iraqi forces trained and ready to begin assuming control in cities throughout the country.

After the White House and Pentagon were contacted for comment, however, a senior adviser to Talabani called The Washington Post to say Talabani did not intend to suggest a specific timeline for withdrawal. "He is afraid . . . this might put the notion of a timetable on this thing," the adviser said. "The exact figure of what would be required will undeniably depend on the level of insurgency [and] the level of Iraqi capability."

In the interview, Talabani said he planned to discuss reductions in U.S. forces during a private meeting with President Bush today, and said he believed the United States could begin pulling out some troops immediately.

"We think that America has the full right to move some forces from Iraq to their country because I think we can replace them [with] our forces," Talabani said. "In my opinion, at least from 40,000 to 50,000 American troops can be [withdrawn] by the end of this year."

That sounds like a far cry from the situation Biden and the New York Times described during the Condoleezza Rice confirmation hearings in January of this year. Biden claimed that Rice used deceptive numbers, exercising more caution than our own Senator Mark Dayton, who just called Rice a "liar" on the Senate floor during the open debate that followed. Biden insisted that only 4,000 Iraqis had been trained for the security forces at that point.

Talabani's statement makes clear that the US has worked efficiently to rebuild Iraq's army and national security capability. This kind of training takes time, especially when building from the ground up in the middle of a bloody terrorist insurgency. It has been just seventeen months since the US returned sovereignty to Iraq, and in that time we have built up over 200,000 Iraqi troops with at least preliminary training, and a large percentage now have battle experience and operational expertise, thanks to the impulse of Zarqawi to seize towns and expose his assets to the concerted force of American and Iraqi military units.

Talabani's timeframe may be somewhat optimistic, and the upcoming elections are too important for the US to withdraw anything more than a token prior to the vote. However, it shows that the Iraqis feel increasingly able to handle the insurgency themselves, and if they can reach an accommodation with the Sunnis on a constitution, their optimism may well be justified. Too bad some Americans can't have as much faith in America and our military as Talabani does.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 13, 2005 6:26 AM

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