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Panel Finds Progress, Problems with Iraqi Security

September 6, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: And to today’s report on the Iraqi army and police. Joining us now are: the chairman of the Iraqi Security Forces Assessment Commission, former Marine commandant and NATO commander General James Jones; and commission member and former Washington, D.C., Police Chief Charles Ramsey.

Welcome, General Jones, Chief Ramsey.

GEN. JAMES JONES, Former NATO Commander and Marine Commandant: Thank you, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: General, first, some overall conclusions, that the Iraqi security forces — army and police together — are not going to be able to secure Iraq independently, at least until another 18 months, or 12 to 18 months. What caused you to draw that conclusion?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, I think the commission came to the conclusion that the progress has been measured but uneven across the spectrum of the Iraqi security forces. We specifically evaluated the progress made by the Iraqi armed forces and the police forces and the two ministries that oversee these two elements, specifically the ministry of defense and the ministry of security.

We found that the army is moving in a positive direction and the police, generally speaking, is not. And so, as a result of that, we came to the conclusion the likely pattern of progress over the next 12 to 18 months will be for a more capable army able to take on the internal security threats facing the country, but a police force that needs a lot more work, a lot more training, and a lot more focus.

JIM LEHRER: Chief Ramsey, your report went even beyond that. You said it ought to be disbanded and reorganized. Why did you say that?

CHARLES RAMSEY, Former Washington, D.C., Police Chief: Well, we’re talking about the national police when we make that recommendation. The Iraqi police service has about 230,000 members, and that is not the group that we’re talking about. They certainly face challenges, primarily because of the ineffectiveness of the Ministry of Interior.

But it’s the national police that really drew our attention and our concern. And that’s due to the widespread negative comments that we got about the national police. They don’t really have a clear policing mission. They don’t seem to know whether or not they want to be a military unit or a police unit.

Last year in October, an entire brigade was disbanded because of allegations of kidnapping of 26 Sunni men and the killing of seven of those individuals. They aren’t able to deploy beyond Baghdad because of a lot of sectarian issues. Our sense was that, if they were disbanded but then reorganized with a different mission, a smaller unit that would focus on legitimate police functions, such as bomb squads, SWAT teams, river patrol, air support, urban search-and-rescue, those kinds of things, they would be far more effective. And the remaining personnel, once they’re properly vetted, some would go to the military, some could go into the Iraqi police service.

The Iraqi national police force

Gen. James Jones
Chairman of Iraqi Security Commission
We see that, having talked to all of our mentors and our embedded trainers, a consensus building that the Iraqi army is increasingly able to handle the internal problems -- to respond well against the internal security threats of Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: General Jones, what went wrong with the national police force?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, I think what went wrong is that the construct is wrong. It's 85 percent Shia. It is associated with some pretty bad things that have happened in the near past. It is sectarian, and it is not trusted by certainly the other ethnicities in the country.

I think the chief is absolutely right that this is not the entire Iraqi police, which, if you add up all of the capabilities or entities under the Ministry of the Interior, you have almost 320,000 Iraqis in some sort of policing function. So we're talking about the narrow band, but it's a narrow band that's at the top of the pyramid, and it is causing difficulties. And I believe it should be disbanded and re-tasked.

JIM LEHRER: Chief Ramsey, did you come away with a feeling that this could, in fact, be done, that there is a will in the Iraqi government to disband and reconstruct it properly?

CHARLES RAMSEY: Well, I don't know if there's a will inside the Iraqi government from your earlier comments. It seems as though, perhaps, that's not going to be a recommendation that's going to be easily accepted by the Iraqi government.

But we felt compelled as an independent commission to call it as we saw it. Our syndicate, made up of five police chiefs in total, have a collective experience of 150 years in law enforcement, 40 years as actually running police agencies. So we know what we're looking at, and we felt compelled to give an honest assessment. And that's exactly what we did.

JIM LEHRER: General Jones, I quoted in the news summary a moment ago that a spokesman for the prime minister, Prime Minister al-Maliki, said what you all suggested is "unacceptable interference." Do you have a response to that?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, I'm sorry about that response, but there is no question about the accuracy of our findings. I think we should work with the government to point out the errors of their ways, where they're making mistakes. I think that the most critical problem facing the government right now is to find the way towards national reconciliation through political dialogue.

If the prime minister is able to do that, then a lot of good things are going to happen relatively quickly in Iraq. But absent that, it's going to be harder and more difficult.

JIM LEHRER: Now, General, back to the army. You said there is progress, unlike the police force, the national police force. There's some things of a good nature are happening within the army. Explain that. Why did you say that?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, we found, at the top of the pyramid, the Ministry of Interior is generally functioning in the way that we would normally like to see a ministry function. Compared to the Ministry of the Interior, it's relatively free of sectarian bias, not completely, but it's certainly more positive. They have a strategic vision for where they're going.

The Iraqi army is being paid. There's a personnel system. Young Iraqis are flocking by the thousands to join this new army. They have 10 divisions; nine of them are within the acceptable zone of operational capability. They're going to grow by another three divisions by next year. So there's momentum here, and they've acquitted themselves well in their portion of the surge, in Baghdad.

And we see that, having talked to all of our mentors and our embedded trainers, a consensus building that the Iraqi army is increasingly able to handle the internal problems -- to respond well against the internal security threats of Iraq.

Now, the external threats are going to take a little bit longer, because that's the traditional mission of an army, to defend the territories of the nation. But we're pleased by what we saw, and we're encouraged, and we think they're on a good glide slope.

Ministry of Defense success

Charles Ramsey
Former D.C. Police Chief
Now, the police are further behind than the Iraqi army. I think, once the problems in the Ministry of Interior are addressed, that the police will make very rapid progress in all of those areas.

JIM LEHRER: Chief Ramsey, I take it you agree with General Jones and your fellow members of the commission about the army?

CHARLES RAMSEY: Yes, I do. It was a unanimous report, which is unusual, I'm told, for commission reports, that we did agree on all the points within that. And certainly from what we were able to observe, even though we were focused on the police, that the Iraqi army is further along than the police, and it's primarily due to the fact that the Ministry of Defense is further along than the Ministry of Interior.

JIM LEHRER: Now, why, then, Chief, would you say in your report it's the total -- the army and the police together, including the other police, the local police you mentioned -- are not up to doing this independently for at least 12 to 18 months? Why did you pick that figure, and why did you say that?

CHARLES RAMSEY: Well, part of our mandate was to look at the readiness of the Iraqi security forces and, over the next 12 to 18 months, would they be capable of assuming certain responsibilities? Among those responsibilities were being able to provide the safety and security in the individual provinces to be able to deny safe haven for terrorists. In that sense, the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police are not capable yet of being able to do that.

Now, the police are further behind than the Iraqi army. I think, once the problems in the Ministry of Interior are addressed, that the police will make very rapid progress in all of those areas. We saw a great deal of enthusiasm; it was very good training taking place. Not enough of it, they're short trainers.

So there are a lot of challenges. But I think once those are worked out, you'll see some progress in the Iraqi police service, again, which is separate from the national police.

JIM LEHRER: Now, General Jones, is it a manpower numbers problem for the Iraqi Army specifically? Or is it that they're not being trained enough or well enough? Or what is the problem? Why is it taking another -- why is it going to take another 12 to 18 months for them to operate on their own?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, I think that the army is moving in the direction of handling the first level of problems that it has to confront, and that's the internal security of the country. And it's going to have to be a combination of the good capabilities in the police force; I don't want to characterize the police as being totally ineffective.

But it's going to take -- the army is going to be able to first focus on the internal problems, the terrorists, the criminals, and the like. And then over time they're going to migrate to taking care of -- to fulfilling the traditional role that an army does, and that's take care of the territorial integrity of the country against external threats, while the police will ultimately be responsible for the internal security.

It's just going to take time to get there. The quicker we get on with the reforms in the MOI, the Ministry of the Interior, as Chief Ramsey pointed out, and the quicker the police force comes online, the quicker the army will be able to extricate itself from the internal problems and focus on the territorial integrity. So it's a positive trend; it's just going to take time to get there.

The U.S. impact on Iraq

Gen. James Jones
Chairman of Iraqi Security Commission
We're very concerned by what we've learned about the increasing Iranian destabilization efforts in the southern part of the country, the continuing problems along the Syrian border.

JIM LEHRER: Now, General Jones, you and Chief Ramsey and others on the commission also spoke today about changing the basic U.S. military mission, and you used the term "footprint" within the country of the United States. You think that should be changed dramatically. Explain what you meant and why.

GEN. JAMES JONES: We think that the United States should not have an image of being an occupying force in Iraq and that there are a number of things that we could do to soft that image a little bit, beginning with taking advantage of this strategic moment where we have had some success on the ground with the Iraqi army's capabilities, where we have had rather surprising reversal against al-Qaida in al-Anbar province, and where we're meeting with some tactical success with the coalition forces.

Those three things happening simultaneously give us a reason to believe that, as this army continues to develop and as the needed reforms in the police are implemented, that we can start considering reassessing, perhaps even re-missioning some of our forces to focus some of our capabilities away from the cities and onto the borders.

We're very concerned by what we've learned about the increasing Iranian destabilization efforts in the southern part of the country, the continuing problems along the Syrian border. And up until recently, we haven't had that kind of operational flexibility to both focus on the internal and the external threats.

We think that the emerging capabilities of the Iraqi security forces will shortly allow us to focus increasingly on the borders. And we suggest, respectfully, that consideration be given towards re-missioning, re-tasking, and that will mean some force adjustments, as well.

JIM LEHRER: Force adjustments, essentially taking more Americans out of harm's way, out of combat?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, in terms of the ethnic fighting in the cities, yes, that would be one of the effects, and it would have the effect of letting the Iraqis take care of their internal problems, which the forces appear eager to do. But it will also send a very strong message, I think, to specifically two countries -- Syria and Iran -- that are hard at work towards making sure that Iraq doesn't emerge as a whole and stable nation, which we think is very important strategically, in terms of the Gulf region.

Changing the U.S. mission in Iraq

Charles Ramsey
Former D.C. Police Chief
I think that one of the keys toward making that footprint smaller rests with the police. I mentioned before the training issues, but the Iraqi police service is under-equipped. They're driving around in thin-skinned vehicles.

JIM LEHRER: Chief Ramsey, what do you think of that, changing the mission of the U.S. troops on the ground? You've spent a lot of time with everybody over there. Did you have feeling about the American footprint that left an impression on you?

CHARLES RAMSEY: Yes, I do. In fact, I think that one of the keys toward making that footprint smaller rests with the police. I mentioned before the training issues, but the Iraqi police service is under-equipped. They're driving around in thin-skinned vehicles. They have soft body army and AK-47s.

They aren't equipped at a level to meet the threat posed by a militia and insurgents. And until they are, then the need to have a reliance on coalition forces is going to remain. The more that the police can do to offload a lot of that from the coalition and pick up that responsibility, then it's logical then to think that the footprint can be downsized.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Well, Chief Ramsey, General Jones, thank you both very much.

CHARLES RAMSEY: Thank you.

GEN. JAMES JONES: Thank you. Good to be with you.

JIM LEHRER: Thank you.