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Coalition Working to Improve Iraqi Security Force Training

By Donna Miles
National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2004 – Progress in standing up a trained, equipped Iraqi security forces willing to fight for their country is "mixed," President Bush acknowledged today, noting that the coalition is continuing to work toward this critical milestone in Iraq's long-term security.

"Ultimate success in Iraq is for the Iraqis to secure their country," the president told reporters during a press conference at the White House. "I recognize that. The American people recognize that. That's the strategy."

It's a strategy he said involves working to provide security for a political process to go forward and helping rebuild Iraq. But equally important, Bush said, is training Iraqis "so they can fight off the thugs and the killers and the terrorists who want to destroy the progress of a free Iraq."

The president said he and coalition leaders on the ground "are under no illusions" that the Iraqi security forces in their current state are prepared to assume full responsibility for their country's security.

"Some really fine units" in the Iraqi security forces served notably in Fallujah and Najaf, the president said.

But this professionalism hasn't always been displayed across the board, he said. "There have been some cases where, when the heat got on, they left the battlefield," he said. "That's unacceptable."

U.S. military leaders and trainers have analyzed "what worked and what didn't work" in training Iraq's security forces, Bush said.

The president said Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command and Army Gen. George W. Casey, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, told him during a meeting last week that one area that needs work is building a complete command structure "that connects the soldier to the strategy in a better way."

"They've got some generals in place and they've got foot soldiers in place," Bush said. "But the whole command structure necessary to have a viable military is not in place. So they're going to spend a lot of time and effort on achieving that objective."

Bush said he expects this to occur "pretty quickly" and was assured by Abizaid and Casey that training remains intense, recruitment good and equipping of troops under way. However, the president said it's not possible to provide an exact timetable of when the training and equipping will be complete.

Ultimately, Bush said Iraq needs to have a security force with the will and capability to "fight off these bombers and killers" that threaten the country's stability.

The insurgents are "trying to shake the will of the Iraqi people and, frankly, trying to shake the will of the American people," the president said. He called the terrorists' tactics "effective propaganda tools" that "are having an effect."

That's why it's so important that the coalition succeeds in helping the Iraqis defend themselves and that a political process moves forward, he said.

"It's in our long-term interest that we succeed," he said. "And I'm confident we will."

The president said he expects other countries, including Syria, "to honor the political process in Iraq without meddling." He said the United States has "a variety of tools ranging from diplomatic tools to economic pressure" at its disposal to ensure this occurs. "Nothing's taken off the table," he said.

"We have a vital interest in the success of a free Iraq," the president said. "You see, free societies do not export terror. Free governments respect the aspirations of their citizens and serve their hopes for a better life. Free nations are peaceful nations.

"And free nations in the heart of the Middle East," Bush said, "will show what is possible to others who want to live in a free society."

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Transcript of President's Press Conference

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