Mon, Dec 26, 2005 - Page 7 News List

US army speeding up military handover

AP , BEIJI, IRAQ

The US Army is hastening efforts to hand over command of military posts to Iraqi forces after parliamentary elections that many hope will produce a more stable government and set the stage for US soldiers to begin going home.

Seventeen of the 109 former Iraqi bases used by coalition troops since the 2003 invasion have already been transferred to Iraqi command, while 30 have been shut down, Army officers say. The Pentagon is pushing for more in the coming months.

"Eventually they're all going to go," said Major John Calahan, executive officer of the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade. "The ultimate plan is that we're going to have less presence in Iraq until finally we're gone."

Defense analysts caution it may not be a fast process. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made similar comments in Iraq this week, even as he said two Army brigades would not deploy to Iraq as planned. Commanders said that would cut US troop strength by 7,000, to around 130,000.

Despite the step-up in efforts to turn more security duties over to Iraqi units, Calahan said concerns linger over the readiness of those troops.

Some Iraqi forces have excelled and fought well alongside Americans, but other units have been hamstrung by weapons shortages and some have had their soldiers caught working with insurgents.

In some places, Iraqi troops have failed to report for duty, gotten caught with bomb-making materials or allowed insurgents to attack US convoys or other coalition soldiers by looking the other way, Americans say.

That reality has fueled an undercurrent of distrust for Iraqi soldiers.

"A lot of them want to do a good job, but then you have those who only show up for a paycheck," said Sergeant Paul Hare, 40, of Tucumcari, New Mexico, a Humvee gunner in the 101st Airborne's 33rd Cavalry Regiment. "I don't trust a one of them."

The plan for turning military posts over to Iraqis has been in place for months, but Army officers say the administration of US President George W. Bush has quickened the timeline.

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