Washington: Shortfalls in the capabilities of Iraq`s security forces could undo security gains after US troops leave at the end of 2011, a US watchdog said in a report published on Sunday.
The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) noted that while Baghdad`s forces had made major improvements, they suffered from poor logistics capabilities, and that corruption within the police and Army had hampered their development.
"This quarter, several US observers noted real or potential gaps in Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) capabilities that could affect its ability to lock in hard-won security gains," SIGIR said in its quarterly report.
It noted that according to US department of defence assessments, "both MOI (Ministry of Interior) and MOD (Ministry of Defence) security forces are behind in the attainment of Minimum Essential Capability."
Minimum Essential Capability refers to a standard that indicates that forces "can provide internal security and possess foundational capabilities to defend against external threats”.
Violence in Iraq declined as 2010 went along, with the number of deaths from attacks dropping for six consecutive months from July, though an apparent spike in insurgent activity in the past two weeks appears to have broken this trend.
All American soldiers must leave Iraq by the end of 2011, per the terms of a bilateral security pact.
The SIGIR report noted that the Iraqi Army "appears likely to fall short" in terms of logistics capabilities by the time US troops leave.
It added Interior Ministry forces "are expected to have gaps in funding, command and control, and logistical infrastructure through the time USF-I withdraws”.
Meanwhile, the American training mission in Iraq told SIGIR that "corruption within the ISF has hindered development and led to the inefficient allocation of human and fiscal resources, as well as the absence of a requirements-driven planning process for the maintenance of security infrastructure and equipment."
American forces told the watchdog that the US "faces the choice of making additional investments to fill essential gaps in ISF capabilities or accept the risk that they will fall short of being able to fully secure Iraq from internal and external threats by the time US forces depart."
While US commanders in Iraq insist their local counterparts are able to maintain security within the war-ravaged country, the Iraqi Army chief of staff Babaker Zebari said in August that Baghdad`s forces would need American help until 2020.
A spokesman for US forces in Iraq, Colonel Barry Johnson, said the SIGIR report echoed the military`s own views.
"We have been forthright about the areas of concern and this report only reinforces what we`ve already said many times," Johnson said.
"Much of our focus in the months ahead includes developing the Iraqi forces` critical capabilities in logistics and sustainment, intelligence gathering and integration, leadership development, and defence against external threats."
Johnson added that development of those capabilities would continue after US forces withdrew from Iraq and the US State Department takes over responsibility for security force training.