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Pentagon says Iraq forces not ready for US to quit

Written by: Staff

Washington, Apr 26 : Even though 250,000 Iraqi forces have been trained they are not ready to take control of Iraq's security and a timeline cannot be set for US troop withdrawal, the Pentagon said today.

In a congressional hearing marked by sniping and sarcasm, Democratic lawmakers said it was incomprehensible why some of the more than 130,000 US troops in Iraq could not start coming back if a quarter of a million Iraqi security forces had been trained, as claimed by the Bush administration.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman said neither the US president nor military commanders had decided what US troop levels would be by the end of the year.

''I cannot set a deadline, cannot give you a date when we can all go home,'' said Rodman, adding that some parts of Baghdad and large parts of Iraq were under local control.

''This is a process, congressman,'' added Rodman in an exchange with California Rep Tom Lantos, a Democrat, during a hearing of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee. ''It is not something which can happen overnight.'' Brig Gen Michael Jones conceded the level of training varied among the 250,000 security forces. ''That doesn't necessarily mean that is the size of an effective force,'' he said of those trained.

''I would say that they are not yet capable of independently assuming that responsibility,'' he added.

Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were in Baghdad today and neither would be drawn on when US troops might leave.

But Democrats said one after the other it was time to start drawing down troops. ''I think we can start reducing ... it's not a cut and run,'' said Rep Diane Watson from California.

Jones said the United States ultimately hoped to train 325,000 security forces to handle Iraq's security situation.

''Frankly, there are some unknowns there,'' he added.

Better police needed


The State Department's Iraq coordinator, Jim Jeffrey, pointed out Iraq's police force, which is accused of being behind some of the sectarian violence, needed a lot more work.

''The stand up of the army is doing very, very well. The police we're more concerned with,'' said Jeffrey.

Only a handful of Republicans attended the hearing and Democrats complained there was not enough congressional oversight of Iraq.

But committee Chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois dismissed this criticism and listed at least nine full committee hearings on Iraq.

''Wrong from the beginning and likely wrong until the end,'' shot back New York Democrat Gary Ackerman of mistakes in Iraq.

''We have not done our constitutional oversight.'' Pressure has been mounting, particularly among retired generals, for Rumsfeld to quit over mistakes made in Iraq.

But the president has said repeatedly he has confidence in Rumsfeld, a fact Rodman brought up, adding it was ''above my pay grade'' to comment on calls for the defense chief to quit.

''How many Americans have to die and how many generals have to speak out?,'' asked Ackerman angrily.

Responding to Democrats' criticism over Iraq, the State Department's Jeffrey said: ''We don't think it is going as badly as you say.''


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