General: Infrastructure and Security Top Iraq Priorities
Eric Schmitt is reporting some sober comments about the obstacles still ahead in Iraq from the commander of the XVIIIth Airborne Corps.
The top American operational commander in Iraq has offered a sober assessment of the hurdles facing a new Iraqi government, voicing concerns that sectarian rivalries and incompetence could cripple major ministries and turn newly American-trained Iraqi security forces into militias for hire. The commander, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines of the Army, warned in an interview on Wednesday that the development of the Defense and Interior Ministries that sustain Iraqi security forces lags behind the fielding and prowess of more than 220,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers. “The ability of the ministries to support them, to pay them, to resupply them, provide them with water, ammunition, spare parts and weapons is not as advanced as the competence of the forces in the field,” General Vines said at his headquarters here outside of Baghdad, as a new wave of violence gripped Iraq this week. “We must make significant progress in that area before they can conduct independent operations.”
General Vines cautioned that other important ministries, like oil and electricity, must also strengthen their operations for the security forces to succeed – and for Iraq to prosper politically and economically. “The reason it’s important to look at areas like governance and infrastructure is because oil is the lifeblood of Iraq,” said General Vines, who commands the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C. “If they don’t produce enough income to support their security forces, members of those forces could turn to ulterior purposes and could become militias or armed gangs.”
The comments by General Vines, who formerly served with Special Operations Forces in Somalia and commanded all American troops in Afghanistan, offer perhaps the bluntest public assessment yet by a senior military officer about the challenges facing the American-led military coalition and the fledgling Iraqi government in the coming months.
General Vines cited a string of notable successes over the past year, including the building of the Iraqi security forces into a growing number of units that are taking the lead in securing the country and successfully holding two elections and one referendum in 2005. But he also warned of potential trouble in the weeks and months ahead, as Sunni Arabs look to a Shiite-dominated government for signs that their voices and needs will be addressed.
I question Schmitt’s assessment that these are “perhaps the bluntest public assessment yet by a senior military officer.” We’ve been hearing about these problems since the earliest days of the war. It’s not as if we are ignoring the infrastructure, especially the oil industry. The problem is that the guerillas know this, too, and are sabotaging the rebuilding efforts.