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Iraq unprepared to handle its own security, report says

Times Staff Writer

A committee directed by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and President Bush to accelerate the transfer of security responsibility to Iraq’s army and police has warned that Iraq is lagging in a number of categories.

The quarterly report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, says the Finance Ministry is blocking the Iraqi military from spending $660 million to build a logistical network; that militias are an obstacle to handing over to Iraqis responsibility for security in three mainly Shiite Muslim provinces; and that competition among rival security organizations has prevented the country from settling on a national security structure.

“I agree it is mixed results,” said Iraqi national security advisor Mowaffak Rubaie. “We are behind schedule, but we made good progress.”

A foreign advisor to the Iraqi government agreed that progress was being made.

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Iraqi forces are now responsible for security in seven out of 18 provinces.

The findings by Iraqi, U.S. Embassy and U.S. military officials were the latest report card on Iraq’s progress.

The report follows an assessment by the Bush administration last week of Iraq’s steps toward healing sectarian and ethnic rifts.

That survey of 18 “benchmarks” found Iraq lagging on passing major legislation and described the country’s security forces as battling sectarian and militia influences.

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The reports come as Congress has been heatedly debating the future U.S. role in Iraq.

The second quarterly report since Bush and Maliki launched the review at a summit in November rates the training and equipping of the security ministries; their ability to achieve self-reliance; the development of Iraq’s intelligence apparatus and national security structure; the readiness of provinces to be controlled by Iraqi security forces; and the ability of the army to assume control.

The report also evaluates security coordination and Iraq’s counter-terrorism units.

The categories are color-coded red for off schedule/requires attention; amber for proceeding adequately and green for on schedule.

No category is deemed completely on schedule. Only the training and equipping of the Defense Ministry is judged close to running on time, with a combined green and amber rating.

The Iraqi army’s ability to assume operational control and Iraq’s counter-terrorism forces both received amber ratings.

The report says Shiite militias are a major obstacle to handing over security in the mid-Euphrates provinces of Karbala, Babil and Wasit.

Corruption and militia infiltration of security personnel ranks pose another hurdle, it says.

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The report also points up divisions over who should control Iraq’s intelligence apparatus.

One piece of legislation written with American backing would give control to Rubaie; another would give it to Sherwan Waili, the minister of state for national security.

Waili’s critics accuse him of following a hard-line Shiite nationalist agenda.

“It’s a political issue of the highest order. That’s not going to be resolved tomorrow. It’s waiting on a political solution in the parliament,” a foreign advisor to the Iraqi government said.

Iraq’s chain of command is also unclear, and the report calls for Waili’s responsibilities to be better defined.

Waili has a nationwide network of agents involved in arrests and intelligence-gathering, but he is doing so without any charter.

“It’s a very sensitive and important topic. I don’t think it’s a gargantuan death squad or cleansing squad, but they are definitely some people who are operating in that gray area between intelligence and policing and doing things without full ... legal sanctions,” the advisor said.

The report also urges that the powers of officials who deal with military affairs in Maliki’s office be clarified. They have issued orders to troops and some are pushing to take charge of military and police operations.

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The advisor warned that that would rob the Defense and Interior ministries of their functions.

The survey also points up the Finance Ministry’s refusal to authorize the Defense Ministry to spend $660 million to build its own supply network for food, water, maintenance and waste removal, which it says has slowed down the handoff effort by six to nine months.

Meanwhile, five Americans and three British troops were killed in action, their military commands reported Thursday.

The U.S. command said that four soldiers and their interpreter died Wednesday in a roadside bombing in east Baghdad, and that a fifth soldier was killed Thursday by gunfire southwest of the city.

The deaths raised the number of U.S. military fatalities in the Iraq theater since March 2003 to 3,628, according to the website icasualties.org which tracks deaths and injuries in the conflict.

The three British troops were killed Thursday in a mortar attack on their base in the southern city of Basra, the British Defense Ministry said. That brought the number of British troops killed in Iraq to 162.

In Baghdad, the main bloc of Sunni Arab lawmakers returned to parliament Thursday, ending a five-week boycott and vowing to work with their Shiite counterparts to save the country from chaos.

Iraq’s legislature has been deadlocked for weeks despite U.S. pressure to meet the 18 benchmarks, which include passage of laws on sharing oil revenue and the rehabilitation of employees purged from government because they were members of the late dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

It was unclear whether the Sunnis’ return would lead to a quick push to pass the measures before a recess in August, or whether the parliament would delay its break to give U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, legislative accomplishments to cite when delivering their September assessment of military operations to Congress.

The Iraqi Accordance Front’s 44 lawmakers returned after striking a deal under which parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashadani, a Sunni, could retain his post.

The speaker was suspended last month after one of his bodyguards hit a Shiite member of parliament.

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ned.parker@latimes.com

Times staff writers Saif Rasheed and Zeena Kareem contributed to this report.


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