As US leaves, Iraqi forces still under construction

By Jim Loney
Decemeber 11, 2011

Nearly nine years after the United States threw out Saddam Hussein and dissolved his feared security machine, Iraq’s rebuilt military is a long way from matching up with regional powers like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel.

With little air defense, marginal control of its borders and a tenuous grip on Sunni insurgents and Shi’ite militias, Iraq may depend on American military help for years to come, even as most U.S. troops leave Iraqi soil by mid-December.

But current external threats are few amid Arab Spring turmoil and the Iran nuclear confrontation, analysts say, which may buy time for Iraq’s nascent forces to rebuild and re-arm.

A regional power under Saddam with 700,000 troops and an air force of 40,000 aviators flying French Mirage and Soviet MiG combat jets, the Iraqi military was devastated and then disbanded by U.S. occupation forces in 2003.

The ongoing internal battle against a stubborn insurgency and external defense now falls to a security force the government numbers at about 900,000 largely trained by Americans but not yet fully equipped for the task.

“We are ready. But we need help,” said General Hamid al-Maliki, head of the Army Aviation Command, echoing the sentiments of many Iraqi leaders. “Very, very big help.” …

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