RAY SUAREZ: Scenes like these have plagued Iraq for months, attacks targeting Iraqi security forces. As Iraqis approach next month's nationwide election, insurgents are working hard to derail them, killing those who cooperate with the Americans.
For months, the U.S. has struggled to rebuild the Iraqi security forces after the Bush administration decided to dissolve Saddam Hussein's Army, a move that drew recent criticism from Iraqi interim President Ghazi al-Yawer.
Getting Iraqis to take responsibility for their own security is a key element of the U.S. exit strategy, as President Bush recently noted.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We'll help the Iraqi government build a force that no longer needs coalition support, so they can defend their own nation. And then American soldiers and Marines can come home with the honor they have earned.
RAY SUAREZ: But up to now the record of Iraqi forces has been mixed. In the battle to regain control of the insurgent stronghold Fallujah last month, Iraqi forces fought alongside American troops with much success.
But even before the assault began, a number of Iraqi forces deserted. And as that battle raged to the north in Mosul, Iraqi police stations were under attack, prompting hundreds of Iraqi police and National Guard there to disappear, to abandon their posts.
In their place, masked men were brazenly roaming and controlling the streets. In Samarra, also north of Baghdad, U.S. forces along with Iraqi troops led a brief offensive to take the city back from insurgents in early October.
Despite the success of that operation, devastating attacks have continued there. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld recently conceded more Iraqi forces were now being targeted.
DONALD RUMSFELD: It's reasonably clear to me that the extremists have decided that the Iraqi security forces are a danger to them. Elsewise, why would they be running around trying to kill so many of them? Iraqi security forces have lost considerably more people killed in action than have the coalition forces in recent months.
RAY SUAREZ: That was violently apparent in October when the bodies of 49 new members of the Iraqi Army were found on a remote road in eastern Iraq, ambushed and gunned down execution-style by suspected insurgents.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on the successes and challenges of training the new Iraqi security forces, we get three perspectives: Peter Khalil was director of national security policy for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq from August 2003 to May 2004, with a major role in the building of the new Iraqi Army. He's now a visiting fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Marine Corps Col. Thomas Hammes was responsible for managing bases, facilities and logistics that supported the training and operations of Iraqi armed forces in early 2004. He is the author of "The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century." The views he expresses are his own and don't represent the views of the Defense Department.
And Sevan Lousinian was born in Iraq and left there when he was 12. From June 2003 to June 2004, he was an Arabic interpreter and advisor for the U.S. military in Iraq. And welcome to you all.
Col. Hammes, you heard President Bush a moment ago talk about the ideal of a force that doesn't need coalition support. Are there any units that are ready to take on that kind of work?
COL. THOMAS HAMMES: I can't really comment on specific units without more current information, but it would be very surprising if large numbers could. Remember, these forces are less than a year old.
The U.S. forces, when we've gone into our first year of war in the revolution, in 1812, of course first Manassas in the Civil War, Tassarine Pass, and the problems in Korea, in our first year we've had a number of units that have broken and run too.
So I think the Iraqi forces are progressing. They're getting better. It's encouraging that some are staying to fight.
RAY SUAREZ: Peter Khalil, do you agree with that view?
PETER KHALIL: Well, Ray, I think there are many different types of Iraqi security forces with different levels of training. The police and the National Guard have limited training and therefore less than capable of dealing with the insurgency head on.
The Army has better training, 8-week basic boot camp, but the special forces in the Army do an extra seven weeks so they're a bit more capable of dealing with the insurgents but there are plans for training special police units, specifically training counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. They are going to be quite critical in defeating the insurgency eventually.
RAY SUAREZ: You talk about the different kind of training that these different forces get. Has that process improved? Is someone hitting the street in a new uniform this month, next month, likely to be properly trained for the job they're heading out there to do?
PETER KHALIL: Well, there are more numbers of National Guard and police because their training cycles are actually shorter so you can get more out of the training pipeline to go out and be operational quicker.
The forces which have the specialized training take longer obviously to train and there's a smaller number of those but they've been quite effective in taking on the insurgents both in Samarra and also Fallujah and there were some operations in Kirkuk where they rescued some Iraqi hostages from insurgents.
RAY SUAREZ: Col. Hammes, what, in your view, have been the biggest impediments, to getting forces trained and in the pipeline and serving?
COL. THOMAS HAMMES: I think one of the problems has been our failure to properly man the training staffs. Gen. Petreus was sent in, in March with the idea of taking over training of all the security services. Previously we had just been training the Army with the U.S. forces.
We have not provided a number of trainers. We have not provided sufficient equipment. You'll notice the police are out there with AK-47s and open pick-ups facing people armed with machine guns and RPG's, so that would be the biggest thing I think we need is to provide proper equipment and sufficient trainers.
RAY SUAREZ: I want to return to that issue of equipping later. But Sevan Lousinian at this point let me bring you in and have you talk a little bit about the men you saw joining up. And what they thought they were getting into and whether they stuck around.
SEVAN LOUSINIAN: The men that joined are very, very weak people. We recruit the desperate people unfortunately. We need to recruit leaders. We can go back to the Army and get some leaders from the Army and recruit them and brief them.
We have lack of leadership within the Iraqi police force. The Iraqi police force will follow the Iraqi leaders much more than following the American officers. So, we need to do that.
RAY SUAREZ: When you say "desperate men," what do you mean? They just needed a job so they signed up?
SEVAN LOUSINIAN: Exactly. These are teachers. They are engineers. They're starving to death. Two weeks ago on national TV, on the news, a reporter was interviewing a police officer who was injured.
He asked him why did you join this program; this is a very dangerous program. The guy answered I was desperate. I was starving to death. So this is the type of people we're recruiting. We have to get the Army officers back and make them get involved in the issue of security.
RAY SUAREZ: Peter Khalil, how do you respond to that observation? Is he right about the desperate men showing up to enlist?
PETER KHALIL: I'll make a note about that many of the people that have joined up to state security services, there were over 100,000. It's significant to note that that's a far greater number than the numbers of insurgents operating. Many obviously as Sevan has said do join up to get a job. That's certainly true.
As far as the leadership challenge I do agree. I mean, it was one of the greatest challenges finding military leadership who weren't tainted by the former regime. But the opportunity that it did present in building a new institution, a new military was allowing Kurdish and Shiite and many different other ethnicities to become officers in the new Army which was formerly dominated by Sunni Baathists if you like.
Another element which will help with training but over a longer period of time is the training of some of these military leaders in many of the military colleges around the world, the coalition has put up exchange programs for. So these are all good, positive steps.
RAY SUAREZ: So you note that some men who wouldn't have made it in the old Army are being allowed to rise. But what about Sevan Lousinian's suggestion that they go back to the old Army and get some of those old officers back into uniform?
PETER KHALIL: Well, it's important to note that there were 11,000 general officers in the old Iraqi Army. It was a very bloated institution. Compare that with the 385 general officers in the U.S. Army.
A lot of them were obviously political ideologues and some just illiterate members of the Takoradi [ph]clan that Saddam gave two stars for example. So it's important to find good leadership but also to train and educate that leadership in the new culture of the future Iraqi democratic state, so an army that doesn't repress its own people or is used as a tool of repression but defends and protects them.
RAY SUAREZ: Col. Hammes, what do you do from now on? I mean, you've talked a little bit, given us sort of your assessment of where things are now. You've heard some suggestions put on the table. Where do you go to get the kinds of things that the forces, as they are today, are still lacking?
COL. THOMAS HAMMES: Well, I think it's both things and leaders, as Peter said. One of the things we've done well under Gen. Eaton, under the Army, is he carefully selected and built a leadership program. I think one of the reasons the Army battalions are more successful is not just more training but their leaders were carefully selected and groomed.
And most of them were former members of the Iraqi Army. As far as equipment, we already have problems equipping our U.S. forces with U.S. industry. But there's a lot of people who make first-class light armored vehicles, police-type vehicles, the South Africans have superb vehicles, the Turks have superb vehicles.
We could be buying those and equipping the, particularly the Iraqi special police units, but also those units who are going to have to hold out in their police stations until they can be relieved by National Guard or Army. They've got to have somewhat heavier weapons and rifles and pistols.
RAY SUAREZ: Reports are coming out of Iraq, Colonel, of men who very much need bullet-proof vests. They can't get badges, ID cards. How is it that we embarked on this mission to build native forces in Iraq without some of the basics of even big city police work in the United States?
COL. THOMAS HAMMES: One of the problems you have with police forces is we don't have a national police in this country so we have no pool of one place you go for trainers. That's where we need our allies.
The Italian Cabinari and other Italian police forces that are national have the procedures and the training processes. They have provided some help. We're providing military police trainers and some U.S. police trainers. But this is almost a paramilitary police requirement as opposed to peer police requirement.
RAY SUAREZ: Sevan Lousinian, were these men that you saw close up more likely to leave when their lives were in danger, more likely to leave when the fighting got bad?
SEVAN LOUSINIAN: No, they will just take off. You can't put somebody in a situation without weapon or protection. And they had neither. When I was there, they had neither. Another issue that we don't give them weapons is the issue of trust.
From the first weeks we saw people turn around and sell their uniforms, sell their light weapons. So that created an issue of trust. Now we are more careful of giving this light weapons to the police, so -- to stand in front of the opposition with light weapons and no armors and no vehicles, no communication, just having the blue uniforms, that's not enough. That's not going to do the job. They will leave.
RAY SUAREZ: Peter Khalil, police have important work to do. I know you've been clear about the distinction between the police and the Army. The Army can't be everywhere, but police are supposed to be the eyes and ears on the sidewalks of the cities of Iraq.
PETER KHALIL: That's true. But their role is to provide basic law and order. It should be noted that even the best trained western police force would have a great deal of difficulty dealing with RPG's being lobbed at their stations, terrorist attacks by vehicle or suicide bombers or whatever at the police forces.
So it really isn't the role of the police to deal with the insurgency or do a counterinsurgency role head on. What's critical is the more high end internal security forces, those specifically trained in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism -- and as I said earlier, there was a policy shift to start training these forces although it takes a bit longer to do so.
But ultimately it's the quality of the Iraqi security forces not the quantity of the forces which is what is going to eventually defeat or at least contain the insurgency.
RAY SUAREZ: Col. Hammes, have you heard that all this violence like Peter mentioned that has been unleashed on police forces has made it harder to get new recruits to replace those who are sort of dying on the front line against the insurgents?
COL. THOMAS HAMMES: I have not heard that. But remember this attack on the police department goes back to August of 2003. Some of the first bombings were targeting police academy graduations, police stations, police officials.
I think you've got to give the Iraqi police some real credit for having the courage to come back to work all the time. Now there are some places that are breaking and running. I think that's understandable. But it's also very encouraging that some are staying and fighting. We give them the proper equipment, proper training, they will be the nucleus of a force that can hold its own.
RAY SUAREZ: So, Sevan Lousinian, let's talk about who shows up to join up even when they know that there's a possibility that they're risking their lives for a new Iraq. There are men, as Col. Hammes pointed out, who are doing that.
SEVAN LOUSINIAN: Yes, those are the previous police officers and the Army who switched from the police... from the Army to the police. They are not the new recruits. They are not coming back.
You cannot put somebody's life in danger for $50 a month. They're not coming back. But those who have been all their life police officers and have no other job, they know their work, those are the ones who are coming back.
RAY SUAREZ: Are they going to be able to help, Peter Khalil, with the elections, all these forces, the National Guard; will they be ready for new duties, the Army, the police?
PETER KHALIL: As I said, the National Guard and the police are not specifically trained to deal with the insurgents but they are trained to do basic security so I think they will have a very important role during the election period setting up perimeter type security around polling booths and polling centers with coalition support, stand-off coalition support.
So they will play a very important role. In the longer term, the forces that will deal with the insurgents are those counterterrorism forces. It's a very small number of those at the moment. I think three battalions but there is plans and a lot of actually in training at the moment. There are plans to have almost 30 battalions in the future. But the National Guard and the police and the Army will play a very important role in securing election sites, if you like.
RAY SUAREZ: Just seven weeks away.
PETER KHALIL: Yeah, it is a very short period of time. The real problem I think is more actually setting up the conditions which will allow elections in those towns and cities rather than the security plans themselves. I think they sit in stone. They're quite right. But allowing Iraqis or Sunni Iraqis especially to come out and vote in a seven-week period is going to be a tough, tough task.
RAY SUAREZ: Thanks a lot, all of you.
PETER KHALIL: Thank you.