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An American instructor is seen as newly graduated Iraqi army officers attend their graduation ceremony at military academy in Baghdad. About a dozen Iraqi soldiers are also training at special operations schools in the United States.
Akram Saleh/Getty Images
It is a first for the new Iraqi army: a 28-year-old Iraqi soldier has graduated from Ranger School, the U.S. Army's most elite training program.
In April 2006, retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey traveled to Iraq and Kuwait for a weeklong assessment of conditions there.
In a memo to West Point, he pointed out shortcomings in the security forces there, but also said there was good news. "The Iraqi army is real, growing, and willing to fight," he wrote.
He completed a course that kept him sleep-deprived and hungry during punishing physical exercise in the mountains of Georgia and the swamps of Florida. Most soldiers insist these are the toughest weeks of their lives.
Captain Arkan, who can only reveal his first name for security reasons, recited the Ranger creed along with 185 other graduates on the banks of Lake Victory at Fort Benning, Ga., on Friday.
American withdrawal from Iraq hinges on the performance of Iraq's security forces, a skilled force loyal to a unified government rather than sectarian leaders. The graduation is a milestone for the new Iraqi army. A second Iraqi soldier is now in Ranger training at Fort Benning. A dozen Iraqi officers are in Quantico, Va., with the Marines.
"This is memorable, this is just the beginning of the true development of quality guys in this army," says Paul Eaton, a retired U.S. Army general who was tasked with creating the new Iraqi army from 2003 to 2004.
But it is not enough, says Eaton.
"We need a Manhattan Project to get after the Iraqi security forces and we need to properly resource this effort, and the fact that the Iraqis do not have more armor than they do right now is a travesty."
A report written for West Point by retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey points out the shortcomings. The seven-page memo has been making the rounds in U.S. military circles and on the Internet. There is good news, according to McCaffrey.
"The Iraqi army is real, growing, and willing to fight," he wrote in the memo.
But it will take patience and money to develop the Iraqi army, he said, "at least two to five more years of U.S. partnership and combat backup" to get the Iraqi army ready on its own. McCaffrey puts a large price tag on this effort: $5 billion to $10 billion a year.
"The resources we are now planning to provide are inadequate by an order of magnitude or more," McCaffrey wrote.