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Study: 'Uneven Progress' By Iraq Security

Iraq's security forces have made "uneven progress" and will be unable to take over security on their own in the next 12 to 18 months, according to an independent assessment.

The study, conducted by a 20-member panel led by retired Gen. James Jones, is one of several independent studies Congress directed in May. A copy of the 37-page report was obtained by The Associated Press.

Overall, Jones found that Iraqi military forces, particularly the Army, show "clear evidence of developing the baseline infrastructures that lead to the successful formation of a national defense capability." But Baghdad's police force and Ministry of Interior are plagued by "dysfunction."

"In any event, the ISF will be unable to fulfill their essential security responsibilities independently over the next 12-18 months," the report states.

Jones, a former commander of U.S. troops in Europe and Marine Corps Commandant, is scheduled to testify before Congress on Thursday. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other officials have already been briefed on the study, officials said last week.

A separate independent study released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office found that Iraq had not met 11 of 18 political and security goals - a blunt assessment that challenges President Bush's findings on the war as he prepares to announce plans for the U.S. military campaign..

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush vigorously defended his troop buildup on Wednesday, and got a boost when Australian Prime Minister John Howard said his country's forces would remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

"If I didn't think we could succeed, I wouldn't have our troops there," Mr. Bush said. He added that it was important "that we hang in there with the Iraqis and help them."

In other developments:

  • A roadside bomb rocked an eastern Baghdad Shiite neighborhood early Wednesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring 25 others when it exploded next to buses used by morning commuters, police and hospital officials said.
  • The U.S. command announced the deaths of six American soldiers in three separate attacks in and around Baghdad. Three of the soldiers were killed after their Humvee was hit with an explosive device. Two others were killed during combat operations in Baghdad, while one was killed west of the capital.
  • Early Wednesday, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi believed to be working with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps's elite Quds Force to supply Shiite militias with Iranian-made weapons, said Maj. Winfield Danielson III.
  • In a goodwill gesture for Sunni Arabs ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, some 200 prisoners were released in the city of Fallujah.
  • Embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met behind closed-doors with Iraq's top Shiite cleric in Najaf to brief him over efforts to fill Cabinet jobs vacated when ministers from the largest Sunni Arab bloc and al-Sadr's movement pulled out to protest the prime minister's policies.
  • Officials in Sulaimaniyah announced that they had indefinitely postponed the start of the school year for primary and secondary schools in an effort to prevent the further spread of cholera in the northern province. Since the disease broke out in mid-August nine people have died and some 70 others have been confirmed with cholera. Another 4,000 are suffering from symptoms like severe diarrhea and vomiting.

    Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the No. 2 Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for the Jones study earlier this year. He said he wanted a detailed assessment on the capability of Iraq's military and police forces because their success is considered by the Bush administration as necessary before U.S. troops leave.

    The report is upbeat about progress made by the Iraqi army and special forces, noting these units have become more proficient in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations.

    "They are gaining size and strength, and will increasingly be capable of assuming greater responsibility for Iraq's security," the report states, adding that special forces in particular are "highly capable and extremely effective."

    But the report is much more pessimistic about Iraq's police forces. It describes the Iraqi police as fragile, ill-equipped and infiltrated by militia forces. And it is led by the Ministry of Interior, which is "a ministry in name only" that is "widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian, and suffers from ineffective leadership."

    Among the recommendations made in the report are:

  • The national police should be disbanded and reorganized. "Its ability to be effective is crippled by significant challenges, including public distrust, sectarianism (both real and perceived), and a lack of clarity about its identity - specifically whether it is a military or a police force."
  • The U.S. and Ministry of Interior should reform the ministry's organizational structure, develop a five-year plan and work toward sustaining forces "in a manner that is free of real or perceived sectarian favoritism."
  • The Iraqi Army should develop a functioning logistics and maintenance system that would enable to operate independently, and the U.S. should continue trying to foster leadership development using its "train the trainers" approach.

    The panel was comprised of 20 retired senior military officers, chiefs of police, as well as John Hamre, who served as deputy of defense during the Clinton administration. The group says it traveled three times to Iraq for a total of 20 days, and met with more than 100 Iraqi officials, 100 current and former U.S. government officials and a dozen leading non-governmental experts.

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