A June 27 Wall Street Journal editorial (subscription required) cited vague and misleading statistics to claim that Iraqi security forces are growing in size and capability. The editorial, titled "The Iraq Panic," argued that growing pessimism about Iraq ignores the "tangible, albeit underreported, progress" taking place there, including the fact that "[a]bout 100 Iraqi [security] units are now able to conduct special operations on their own." But the editorial provided neither the source of this statistic nor further detail regarding the type of "units" in question.
Though the Journal did not specify what size "units" it was referring to (battalions? companies? platoons?) military officials have made clear that the true number of Iraqi troops who regularly operate independently of U.S. forces is quite small.
During a June 23 House Armed Services Committee hearing, Gen. George Casey, the Iraq theater commander, stated that "there are about now, after the elections, more than 100 battalions ... in the Iraqi army and special police." Since the Journal editorial responded directly to several other comments made in recent Armed Services Committee hearings, it is likely that the term "units" referred to these battalions. If so, the Journal appears to have significantly overstated the capability of the Iraqi security forces in claiming that these units could "conduct special operations on their own." According to recent reports, of 107 currently operational Iraqi military battalions, only three are capable of operating independently:
- The military official in charge of training the Iraqi troops, Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, told a delegation of members of Congress, including Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN), "that only three of the 107 battalions had been fully trained to defend Iraq." [Associated Press, 6/4/05]
- "Overall, the number of Iraqi military and police trained and equipped is more than 169,000, according to the U.S. military, which has also said there are 107 operational military and special police battalions. As of last month, however, U.S. and Iraqi commanders had rated only three battalions capable of operating independently." [The Washington Post, 6/10/05]
- "The American command says there are now 107 battalions of Iraqi troops and paramilitary police units, totaling 169,000 men," but "only three battalions are rated fully operational by the Americans, and many others are far behind in terms of manpower, training and equipment." [The New York Times, 6/13/05]
The Journal editorial went on to report that Casey "says there has not been a single failure of any Iraqi military unit since the election." Indeed, in his June 23 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Casey stated that "we have not had a failure of the Iraqi security forces in the face of fairly determined opposition since the elections [on January 30]." But neither Casey nor the Journal provided a definition for the term "failure."
The June 10 Washington Post article on the Iraqi army's Charlie Company, which the U.S. military selected for reporters to spend three days with, described one incident in which the Iraqi troops failed to respond appropriately to an ambush:
Last month, three trucks filled with two dozen soldiers from Charlie Company were ambushed near a Tigris River bridge. Instead of meeting the attack, the Iraqis fled and radioed for help. The Americans said the Iraqis told them they had lost 20 men, had run out of ammunition and were completely surrounded.
When a U.S. quick reaction force arrived, the area was quiet and the Iraqi soldiers were huddled around their trucks. Four were missing; it was later learned that they had hailed taxis, gone home and changed into civilian clothes.
In a later incident, the members of Charlie Company defied orders by U.S. commanders to raid a mosque:
U.S. forces then ordered the Iraqis to arrest everyone inside the mosque, including the respected elderly prayer leader. The Iraqi platoon leader refused, U.S. soldiers recalled. The platoon leader and his men then sat down next to the mosque in protest.
"We wanted to tell the Americans they couldn't do this again," [Corporal Idris] Dhanoun said.