Michele Flournoy, who is leaving her Pentagon post on Friday to return to private life, said in an interview with a small group of reporters that the administration is open to Iraqi suggestions about the scope and depth of defense ties.
“One of the things we’re looking forward to doing is sitting down with the Iraqis in the coming month or two to start thinking about how they want to work with” the US military to develop a program of exercises, training and other forms of security cooperation, Flournoy said.
The US military completed its withdrawal from Iraq in December after nearly nine years of war. Both sides had considered keeping at least several thousand US troops there to provide comprehensive field training for Iraqi Security Forces, but they failed to strike a deal before the expiration of a 2008 agreement that required all American troops to leave.
As a result, training is limited to a group of American service members and contractors in Baghdad who will help Iraqis learn to operate newly acquired weapons systems. They are part of the Office of Security Cooperation, based in the US Embassy in Baghdad and headed by Army Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen.
Additional and more comprehensive training is a major issue because Iraq’s Army and Police are mainly equipped and trained to counter an internal insurgency, rather than deter and defend against external threats. Iraq, for example, currently cannot defend its own air sovereignty. Iraq is buying - but has not yet received - US-made F-16 fighter jets.
In a new report on conditions in Iraq, a US government watchdog agency said the Iraqi army is giving so much attention to fighting the insurgents that it has had too little time to train for conventional combat.
“The Iraqi Army, while capable of conducting counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations, possesses limited ability to defend the nation against foreign threats,” said the report submitted to Congress Monday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen, Jr.
In an introductory note, Bowen wrote that while Iraq’s young democracy is buoyed by increasing oil production, it “remains imperiled by roiling ethno-sectarian tensions and their consequent security threats.”
US officials have said they aim to establish broad defense ties to Iraq, similar to American relationships with other nations in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
Source: Arab News