Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

  Fictional Iraqi military branches are making "progress"

This would get filed in the Not laughing any longer folder, except my disk space has been exceeded.

A report to Congress by the Independent Commission on Security Forces in Iraq, obtained today by CNN, demonstrates how far backwards the supposedly serious people in Washington will bend to avoid declaring forthrightly that the occupation of Iraq, and now the escalation, is a disaster. When the ICSFI report is released publicly tomorrow, I think we'll see that it satisfies all Parties with that on-the-one-hand-but-then-on-the-other game.

How absurd are the results? The Commission (composed mainly of retired military officers and headed by Gen. James Jones) actually claims that two virtually non-existent branches of the Iraqi military are making significant progress towards fanciful goals.

From CNN's summary of the report (with quotations from the report):

  • The "Iraqi air force's relatively late establishment hampers its ability to provide much-needed air support to ground operations" but "it is nonetheless progressing at a promising rate during this formative period."

  • "The Iraqi navy is small and its current fleet is insufficient to execute its mission. However, it is making substantive progress in this early stage of development."

Let's compare those assessments to the facts. As even the Pentagon acknowledged in its latest quarterly report on "progress" in Iraq, the combined manpower of the Iraqi navy and air force is about 2,000 men (pp. 42-43). The phrases "late establishment" and "small" barely begin to describe the problems faced by these two nominal branches of the Iraqi military.

Even if they had many times their current force, in any case, they'd be nearly irrelevant. The report pretends, tongue in cheek, that the Iraqi navy possesses a "current fleet". That hasn't been true since the first Gulf War. As the Pentagon quarterly report reveals, Iraqi naval and marine personnel have to get their sea legs on oil platforms. There are, it's alleged, plans to buy a small fleet of small boats, and if all goes swimmingly, they'll be on hand no earlier than late 2008. But for now, the "current" fleet has only a handful of boats and is capable only of shoreline patrols against smuggling.

But the air force, that must be impressive? According to the Pentagon report, it has a handful of (no doubt fearsome) Cessnas (and such) with which it does some ground surveillance. The air force also has 10 helicopters for evacuating casualties, and all of 3 1960s vintage turboprop transport planes. Yep, that's it for the Iraqi air force. But perhaps it's churlish to focus on the lack of aircraft per se, when as the ICSFI report assures us, it is merely the late start that "hampers" the air force from doing whatever Cessnas normally would do in warfare.

So, according to the pleasant ICSFI report, the virtually non-existent Iraqi navy and air force are "making substantive progress" and "progressing at a promising rate". In other words, CNN has gotten a hold of one of the hardest hitting reports yet on the debacle in Iraq.

* *

Given that the new, dissembling report concludes that Iraqi armed forces won't be ready to operate independently for at least the next year and a half; that the Iraqi Interior Ministry is a ministry in name only; and that sectarian infiltration has rendered the Iraqi national police so ineffective and unreliable that they ought to be disbanded and recreated from scratch—one has to wonder just how bad are things? In the world of facts, I mean, the one surveyed recently by the GAO.

* *

And while we're toying with imponderables, what does it say about the culture of Washington that such a squishy report is treated in the federal capital as if it were a "harsh indictment" of progress in Iraq? There's surely a reason why Bush administration officials were briefed on the Independent Commission's report last week, whereas Congress will not hear from General Jones until this Thursday.

According to several administration officials, the Jones commission also reached largely positive conclusions about the Iraqi Army’s performance since the start of the new security strategy in Iraq — a sign, several officials said, that a determined American effort to remake Iraqi institutions holds some promise of success.

The officials who agreed to discuss the commission recommendations did so in some cases because they believed that disclosing them publicly would help diffuse their impact and focus attention on the Petraeus-Crocker report.

If Washington's serious people would care to get a truly harsh indictment of Progress in Iraq, perhaps they could arrange a sit-down with me some afternoon.

Crossposted from Unbossed

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