Doing double duty in Iraq

More evidence that Iraqi forces are a long way from taking over security operations for their own country -- and that U.S. forces will be stuck in the war zone for years to come.

By Mark Follman
Published June 13, 2005 4:19PM (EDT)

Reporting today on recent activity in Mahmudiya, Iraq, John Burns and Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times remind us of what we've already known for some time about Iraqi forces: They're a long way off from taking over security operations for their own country. "Despite the Bush administration's insistent optimism," write the Times reporters, "Americans working with the Iraqis in the field believe that it could be several years, at least, before the new Iraqi forces will be ready to stand alone against the insurgents."

One particularly discouraging bit from the account: "A few days before the Mahmudiya raids, Iraqi soldiers at a local checkpoint apparently fell asleep in the hours before dawn, and the checkpoint was ambushed by insurgents. They tossed a grenade into the building, then stormed in and executed those left alive, killing at least eight Iraqis, American soldiers said. Since the attack, American troops have been conducting nighttime patrols to make sure the Iraqis stay awake."

It's pretty obvious what this means for the prospect of U.S. forces getting out of harm's way and shipping home any time soon. "The American command has already created military transition teams of soldiers to work with Iraqi troops, and there are plans for up to 10,000 Americans to be attached to Iraqi units at every level from divisions down to battalions and companies, with up to 10 men at the battalion level, and 2 with each company," the report says. "'I just wish they'd start to pull their own weight without us having to come out and baby-sit them all the time,' said Sgt. Joshua Lower, a scout in the Third Brigade of the First Armored Division who has worked with the Iraqis. 'Some Iraqi special forces really know what they are doing, but there are some units that scatter like cockroaches with the lights on when there's an attack.'"

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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