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Pentagon cites Iraq’s political progress

WASHINGTON – Iraq’s army and police aren’t ready to fight a strong and determined insurgency by themselves, the Pentagon reported to Congress on Thursday. However, the report says the country’s elections in January and its work to write a constitution show Iraq’s continued progress.

“The strategic prize in Iraq is the political process,” said Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense. He said it is key that the insurgency has “failed with repeated violence to derail or slow down or disrupt the political process.”

Congress required the Pentagon to submit the report, titled “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” after Democrats and some Republicans said the Bush administration hadn’t backed up its claims of progress in Iraq. The report must be updated every 90 days.

Information on the quality of the training of the Iraqi military and police is kept classified, but the report did say there are about 171,300 soldiers, border guards and police on the job. The number of troops and police and the quality of their training will determine when U.S. troops can withdraw from Iraq.

U.S. commanders estimate that two-thirds of the Iraqi army battalions and half of the police battalions are at least partially capable of fighting the insurgents. In many cases, that means they join with U.S. forces in their missions, Rodman said.

This report is essential because “the American people deserve to know the facts about our policy,” Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said. “They want to know how long it will take to fully train the Iraqis and when our military mission will be completed.”

The report is available at www.defenselink.mil. It also includes assessments by the State Department and the Iraqi government on Iraq’s progress toward democracy, its economy and other matters. For example, it shows electricity generation at about the same level as last year and falling short of growing demand. The number of cell phone users, meanwhile, has soared to nearly 2.7 million in a country that had almost no service two years ago.