TAJI, Iraq – Misguided U.S. training of Iraqi police contributed to the country's instability and has delayed getting enough qualified Iraqis on the streets to ease the burden on American forces, the head of armed forces training said Wednesday.
"It hasn't gone well. We've had almost one year of no progress," said Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton (search), who departs Iraq next week after spending a year assembling and training the country's 200,000 army, police and civil defense troops.
"We've had the wrong training focus — on individual cops rather than their leaders," Eaton said in an interview with The Associated Press.
A credible, well-equipped national security force is crucial to America's plans to pull its 138,000 troops out of Iraq, along with the 24,000 soldiers from Britain and other coalition countries.
As U.S. occupation leaders prepare to hand power to an Iraqi government in less than three weeks, Iraq's own security forces won't be ready to take a large role in protecting the country. A U.N. Security Council (search) resolution approved Tuesday acknowledges Iraq's lack of a developed security force and provides a continued multinational troop presence until 2006.
Paul Wolfowitz (search), the deputy U.S. defense secretary, wrote in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal that the Iraqi army — including the Taji-based Iraqi National Task Force, which focuses on internal strife — will begin assuming some security duties over the next few months.
Iraqi forces could soon "take local control of the cities," with U.S. troops moving into a supporting role, Wolfowitz wrote.
In April, Iraqi security forces failed their first big test, when about half the police and military forces deserted during rebel uprisings in Fallujah, Najaf, Karbala and elsewhere.
Eaton, a plainspoken officer who didn't shirk responsibility for his role in the problems, said soldiers of Iraq's 2nd Brigade simply ignored U.S. orders to fight their countrymen.
"They basically quit. They told us, 'We're an army for external defense and you want us to go to Fallujah?' That was a personal mistake on my part," Eaton said.
When the uprising broke out in Fallujah (search), Eaton said he saw a chance to begin transferring the security mission to Iraqi forces. He agreed to allow the Iraqi army's just-created 2nd Brigade to take on guerrillas that had seized control of the restive western city.
"We were premature," said Eaton, 54, of Weatherford, Okla. "I could have stopped it. I had a bad feeling and I should have acted on it."
The lesson learned was that the soldiers needed an Iraqi command hierarchy. Eaton said the soldiers may have battled Fallujah's Sunni Muslim rebels if Iraqi leaders were spurring them on.
Wolfowitz also cited the importance of Iraqi commanders and said the April desertions shouldn't have been a surprise because of the Iraqis' shortcomings in training, equipment and leadership.
"No one had any expectation that Iraqi security forces would be ready this past April to stand up to the kind of fighting they encountered in Fallujah and in the Najaf-Karbala region," Wolfowitz wrote.
One U.S. military official said Wolfowitz was partly to blame for those shortcomings.
Some $257 million in spending authority was held up by Wolfowitz's office for two months, delaying construction of Iraqi army barracks for four brigades awaiting training, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The desertions could have happened in any country, said Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Khaled al-Sattar, the commander of the army brigade training at the Taji camp.
"The soldiers didn't want to fight their own countrymen. Would you?" al-Sattar said as he and Eaton lunched on stewed beef and beans in the base mess hall. "Once there are division commanders and an Iraqi defense minister, the soldiers will start obeying orders because the orders come from an Iraqi leadership."
U.S. trainers are currently instructing 550 new soldiers in the training camp in Kirkush to replace troops who deserted in April, Eaton said.
U.S. leaders, too, arrived in Iraq unprepared for the type of insurgency that began to flare last summer, Eaton said.
"We thought we were going to be nice and comfortable in a benign environment and rebuild this country," he said. "Not everyone wanted to get Iraqi leaders in fast. I'd have been more aggressive early."
Now, the U.S. military is reconfiguring the training mission. Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who commanded the 101st Airborne Division when it occupied a large part of northern Iraq, returned to the country to head the Office of Security Transition, which oversees recruiting and training of Iraq's five security forces.
Brig. Gen. James Schwitters, who has an Army special operations background, will take over the Iraqi army training mission from Eaton, who will become head of training at the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va.
British Brig. Gen. Andrew Mackay will head police training.
By January, the Iraqi army is expected to count 35,000 soldiers, with the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (search) expected to number 40,000 by fall, according to Wolfowitz. There are now close to 90,000 Iraqi police officers and tens of thousands more Ministry of Interior forces, many have little or no modern police training, he wrote.