A Hand-off Liable to Fumble

From Holden:

If the Bush assministration is hoping to concoct a phased withdrawal of US forces from Iraq they better think twice about the ministry to which they intend to receive the hand-off.

The reformed Iraqi Ministry of Defense, a crucial element of any American plan to withdraw troops, is riddled with crippling problems that have raised concerns about its ability to keep Iraqi units paid, fed and equipped once it assumes full responsibility for the army, American and Iraqi commanders say.

The shortcomings of the ministry, which was overhauled under the American occupation authorities last year, are a growing concern to the American commanders. Hoping to withdraw large numbers of the 135,000 American combat troops in the next year, these commanders say their plans hinge on a functioning ministry. If American troops leave without one in place, they say, the Iraqi Army could quickly collapse.

“What are lacking are the systems that pay people, that supply people, that recruit people, that replace the wounded and AWOL, and systems that promote people and provide spare parts,” said a top American commander in Iraq, who asked not to be identified because his assessment of Iraqi abilities went beyond the military’s public descriptions.

“If they don’t have that capability, we won’t be able to take the training wheels off and let them operate independently,” the commander said.

Case in point, food poisining has sickened more than 100 Iraqi soldiers in Northern Iraq.