Iraq Asks for More Weapons; U.S. Backpedals Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says he wants more military hardware from the United States. President Bush is providing more money for items like armored Humvees and BlackHawk helicopters, while the Iraqis want more unspecified firepower. The Pentagon is reluctant to give them too much weaponry, fearing it will fall into the wrong hands.
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Iraq Asks for More Weapons; U.S. Backpedals

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Iraq Asks for More Weapons; U.S. Backpedals

Iraq Asks for More Weapons; U.S. Backpedals

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michel Norris.

There are growing concerns that Iraqi Security Forces don't have the arms or equipment they need to do their jobs. They have sturdy AK-47 assault rifles, and the American government has sent armored Humvees and light mortars. But some Iraqi officials and retired U.S. generals said the Iraqis need even better weapons and equipment if they're ever going to take on the insurgency.

NPR's Tom Bowman has our story.

TOM BOWMAN: When President Bush addressed the nation early this month, he unveiled the so-called surge in American troops to fight the growing insurgency and he talked about giving Iraqis the tools to one day handle that job.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We'll help the Iraqis build a larger and better-equipped army. And we will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, which remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq.

BOWMAN: Just a week later, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki once more complained he was not getting enough equipment from the Americans. He told reporters if he got the arms he needed, the Americans could leave earlier. A Maliki aide said the Iraqis needed heavy arms, tanks and artillery. Retired Army General Barry McCaffrey says that makes sense. The Iraqis don't have the firepower to defeat the insurgence.

General BARRY McCAFFREY (U.S. Army, Retired): I think we have shamefully ignored this requirement. So when you look on Iraqi army battalion today and there's probably less than 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, some Soviet junk small arms, no mortars, no artillery. They're backed up by no helicopters. There's only one brigade in the Army of 10 divisions that has armor and it's Soviet-junk rebuilt in Iraq. And so the question is, what are we thinking of?

BOWMAN: A senior American military official acknowledged that the Iraqi security forces did not have adequate arms early on. They were equipped with pick-up trucks and assault riffles. But when the insurgency started getting worse in 2005, the Americans began providing Iraqi forces with mortars, machine guns, armored Humvees.

Now, the Iraqis are close to getting the last of the 3,000 armored Humvees they were promised by the Americans. The deputy commander in Iraq, British Lieutenant General Graham Lamb, brushed aside Maliki's complaints about a lack of weapons. He said the Iraqis have billions of dollars to buy arms.

Lieutenant General GRAHAM LAMB (Great Britain): They the wherewithal to get on and buy whatever they need as they see fit to defend this nation as they won and we'll help him do that.

BOWMAN: The senior American military officials say there's been no specific request from the Iraqi government for heavy arms like tanks and artillery. And if there were such a request, the official says the Americans would argue it's not necessary. The official also says the Iraqis don't have the ability to maintain such sophisticated equipment. McCaffrey, the retired general says there is another reason, a fear by Washington this heavy weaponry would only make a civil war more lethal.

General McCAFFREY: Who knows whether this equipment might not be used against the other faction.

BOWMAN: What's more important in McCaffrey's mind is making sure the Iraqis are able to stabilized their own country. Once they can accomplish that, the Americans can leave.

Mr. McCAFFREY: You go to attempt to give them their tools to create the order that are prerequisite to both political and economic success.

BOWMAN: Brigadier General Frank Wiercinski works with Iraqi troops in the northern part of the country. He says they are holding their own with the equipment they have.

Brigadier General FRANK WIERCINSKI (U.S. Army): They have the infantry weapons for light infantry forces that they need to clear out insurgents, to secure their borders. I don't see a threat for them to have a capability of tanks. No.

BOWMAN: American officers say tanks and heavy arms will be part of a future plan for the Iraqi security forces when they would help Iraqis defend themselves against other countries, not insurgents. American officers say they will begin working on that plan between 2008 and 2012.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, The Pentagon.

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