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First Battalion of New Iraqi Army to Finish Training

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2003 – The first battalion of the new Iraqi army should finish training the first week of October, according to the senior adviser for security sector and defense affairs to the Coalition Provisional Authority for Iraq.

There should be four operational battalions by early next year, continued Walt Slocombe during a Pentagon briefing here today. The goal, he added, is to have 27 battalions "trained up" in about a year.

The original plan was to take two years to train 27 battalions. But based on the experience with the first battalion, Slocombe said he believes with appropriate resources it can be accomplished in one year.

"(We can) do it by focusing on leader training and using the pool of soldiers (from the old army) who have already had basic training to form effective units," he said.

The only people excluded from the new Iraqi army, noted Slocombe, are those who were at "very senior levels" of the Baath party or in various intelligence and security services that supported the Saddam Hussein regime.

The force, according to the adviser, will be primarily motorized infantry. It will have limited air mobility, as well as a small coast guard and some armor and artillery units. It will perform missions such as territorial defense, and will operate under the Combined Joint Task Force until full sovereignty is transferred to the Iraqi government.

"Iraq is a country with huge potential," said Slocombe. It needs an army, and it's important to begin the process of building one now, he added.

"(The new army) must be nonpolitical, professional, representative of the country, a force for national unity, and it has to be controlled by an elective government within a legal and constitutional framework," he said. "Its mission has to be military defense of the country. It also has to be a force for stability, and not a threat to its neighbors."

One challenge in creating a new army has been the lack of resources, said Slocombe. When major fighting ended, the old army simply went away. "Everybody went home," he said.

Slocombe said the degree of looting and destruction of property in military installations in Iraq is hard to imagine. "They just didn't steal stuff that wasn't nailed down. They stole toilet fixtures and pipes and tile."

Except for ammunition, there is also a shortage of equipment, he said.

Much of the rebuilding effort, to include making uniforms, is being done by Iraqi contractors, said Slocombe. A civilian defense support agency also is in place to provide logistics and administrative support to the army until a ministry of defense is set up.

Eventually, Iraq may choose to make added investments in a larger force, said Slocombe. "We're trying to create a base to allow Iraq to move forward to make decisions about what kind of investment they want to make in their security forces."

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