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Iraq's Army grows in numbers and readiness

The U.S. military says that an increasingly capable Iraqi Army could assume primary combat responsibility by mid-2009.

Larger presence: Iraqi Army Sgt. Faras Salih checked a driver’s documents in Baghdad, where the Iraqi Army is more visible because of its growing ranks.

Tom A. Peter

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As violence has declined across Iraq, new recruits to this country's fledgling army are no longer sent directly from basic training to the front lines.

When the insurgency was at full bore and spectacular suicide bombings more commonplace, young and inexperienced soldiers were hastily dispatched to take on militants, often with disastrous consequences for the Iraqi Army.

But today it's a different story and Iraq has a much different Army.

"Prior to the last year or year and a half, the demand for combatants in Iraq was so great that troops would come out of basic training and be thrown more or less directly into combat and not be pulled out," says Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

At the same time that attacks have declined and key militant leaders have been killed or arrested, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) has steadily grown. Overall, the ISF, which includes the Army, police, and all other military branches, has increased by 146,100 personnel, or roughly the total number of all US troops stationed in Iraq. Now, the ISF is 591,700 strong, according to US military officials.

"This huge size increase has given them enough people that they can now … afford more training before they throw people right onto the front lines, but even after they've been committed to combat they can now rotate battalions and brigades back out for formalized training," says Dr. Biddle.


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