Is the Iraqi Army Ready for Duty?

Published October 12, 2005

| FoxNews.com

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Oct. 11, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, there are more than 80 Iraqi army battalions fighting the insurgency alongside our forces. Progress isn't easy, but it is steady. And no fair-minded person should ignore, deny, or dismiss the achievements of the Iraqi people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: That was the president the other day. And his view of things in Iraq is backed up by his generals. Tonight, we hear from one who is not one of the president's generals, retired Army General Robert Scales, a noted military historian and a FOX News analyst, just back from Iraq.

Welcome home, Bob. Nice to see you.

RETIRED U.S. ARMY MAJ. GEN. BOB SCALES: Good to be back.

HUME: So tell us about the mission, where you went, what you saw.

SCALES: We were there for six days. We spent time in Baghdad (search). And then we went up to a place called Taji, which is the headquarters of the Ninth Iraqi Mechanized Division.

We specifically asked not only to see our American men and women but, "Let's just go up north and talk to the Iraqis, look them straight in the eye, and get a sense of their military readiness," not readiness in terms of readiness reporting, you know, how many vehicles have you got, what's your percent filled and all that.

Instead, we wanted to look at things like, you know, their training, their will to win, the courage factor, bonding, and cohesion, and leadership, and all those intangibles that really make an army effective, rather than just, you know, "How are you equipped?" And, frankly, what I saw was very encouraging.

HUME: What did you expect to see?

SCALES: Well, I didn't know, because, you know, the make has all along been that, "Well, the Iraqis — we're not too sure about them. We're not sure they'll fight. Back in 2004, they ran away, et cetera, et cetera."

Boy, I got there, and I saw a unit that was only a year old. It was Iraq's first mechanized unit. It hasn't even been fully formed yet. It's commanded by a General Bashar, who, a year ago, when they told to form the unit, he went out to an Iraqi junkyard, essentially a huge bone yard, if you will, and put together pieces of equipment to build 200 armored vehicles without any support from the United States, or American contractors, or the Iraqi government.

So the Iraqis themselves built this division. Seventy-five percent of this division is made up of veterans, of professional soldiers. I met the leadership. I met one brigade commander who had just come back from a firefight. He was in the hospital. And he came back with both of his hands bandaged just to have a chance to meet the Americans.

I also met the Americans that fought with the Iraqis.

HUME: Now, the kind of unit we're hearing about here is where the U.S. is embedded but not in charge.

SCALES: Exactly. There are a group of advisers, colonels, and majors, and NCOs, who sort of marry up with the unit.

HUME: But they're a fraction of the fighting force.

SCALES: Oh, there's only 10 or 12. But in addition to that...

HUME: In a fighting force of, what, a couple hundred?

SCALES: Oh, no. This division is not fully formed. I'd say 8,000 or 9,000.

HUME: Oh, really?

SCALES: Oh, sure.

HUME: So we're talking about 8,000 or 9,000?

SCALES: It's a division.

HUME: Right. This is a division with only a dozen or so Americans?

SCALES: Sure. And it's very interesting. One of my good friends, a man I've known for many years, a brigadier general who's the number two man in charge of the team or the command that's building up the Iraqi army, he actually goes out on patrol with these units.

And he came back, and he said, "Hey, these guys are fighters." I mean, are they patriots? Sure. But more than that, their nationalists. And they want to get rid of the insurgents just as badly as we do. They are very well led and highly motivated.

HUME: So when we hear, as we do periodically, that there are now only — there's only one battalion — Iraqi battalion that is fully ready to go out completely on its own, no American presence, but there are 36 others with Americans advising but I take it we're talking now about only a small number of Americans in these units?

SCALES: Well, just be careful. Well, first of all, there's 25,000 Americans that are sort embedded, if you will, with the Iraqi units.

HUME: Across of all the Iraqi units?

SCALES: Across the Iraqi army. It's 117 battalions. About 80 of them, as the president said, are fully deployed and out in the field fighting.

We have readiness reporting in the United States Army. Look, we're not trying to make the Iraqi military as good as we are, at least not right now. We just want to make them better than the bad guys.

And I would argue, from what I saw, by looking these guys right in the eyes and seeing if they got fire in their belly and if they've got the will to fight, I would argue that, at least the unit that I saw, is capable of taking on the bad guys.

HUME: And you didn't pick one that's in the most advanced stage?

SCALES: No, no. Oh, no. I mean, in fact, because, you know, most of the units that are deployed are deploying around to protect the voting stations, so the unit that we saw, while, you know, it hasn't even been formed yet, it's in the process of being formed.

And as they're being formed, they're also going around in the area around Highway 1 and their garrison, and they're cleaning out the terrorists as they train and as they build. That's a pretty extraordinary accomplishment.

HUME: You talked to our own military officers over there. They're not in a situation when they're talking to you as they would be if they're back in Washington.

SCALES: No, that's right. That's right.

HUME: They can talk to you without you ever revealing their names and so forth.

SCALES: Precisely.

HUME: What did you find, in terms of their view of how it's going?

SCALES: Oh, well, first of all, they're frustrated with the media, particularly those who are training the Iraqi army. They kept telling me, you know, "Why don't they come and look at the Iraqi units? Why don't they embed themselves with us for a while? We can show you what these guys are capable of doing."

The Iraqis themselves are a little disappointed, you know? They're very proud of what they've done. I'll give you one example. Remember about eight months ago, Bill Cowan was in here talking about the BIAP road, you know, the airport road?

HUME: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, the alley of death.

SCALES: Right. I drove the BIAP road, five miles along that road. And it's clear of the enemy. It's full of commerce. And who's protecting it? The Iraqi Sixth Infantry Division.

And in many ways, they're better than we are, in the sense that they're better able to gather intelligence. I mean, they can spot insurgents by their body language and by how they act and the language they use. They can spot foreigners far better than our soldiers can.

And they're better able to engage these terrorists when they find them oftentimes than our own soldiers are. You know, being part of the culture really means a lot when you're fighting an insurgency.

HUME: So frustration with the media, more advanced training. What about the — what is your sense, based on what you've heard, about the overall likelihood of this mission succeeding, and how much farther along are we, if at all, from where we're hearing?

SCALES: That's a great question. The American commitment is steady. We're not going to see an increase in American forces. And their capability is increasing, thanks to infusions of technology and the combat experience...

HUME: American forces?

SCALES: American forces. And the infusion of new units coming over, combat-experienced units.

The insurgency is on a steady downward trend, mainly because U.S. forces and Iraqi forces have been successful in cleaning out the ratlines...

HUME: You wouldn't know it from the news reports.

SCALES: I know. I know. But the ratlines that go along the Tigris (search) and Euphrates River (search) and feed into Baghdad...

HUME: These are lines of infiltration.

SCALES: Yes, yes. And they're taking down the suicide bombers. They're denying access to...

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: We've got about 15 seconds.

SCALES: But I think the greatest hope is Iraq, Iraq units, the regular army, building them up very quickly so that they can take over the fighting and increase the probability of coming out of this OK.

HUME: And you think it's happening?

SCALES: It's happening.

HUME: All right. Bob scales, great to have you back. Welcome.

SCALES: Thanks, Brit.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EDT.

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