STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Our strategy in Iraq is clear, our tactics are flexible and dynamic. We have changed them as conditions have required, and they are bringing us victory against a brutal enemy.
INSKEEP: That's President Bush speaking yesterday at the US Naval Academy. He wants to persuade Americans that he has a strategy to win the war in Iraq. To back up the speech, the White House released a document to lay out the strategy. Both the speech and the document contend that dramatic progress has already been made. Our correspondent in Baghdad, Peter Kenyon, has been looking over that national security strategy, and this morning he's gonna help us check some facts.
And, Peter, let's start with some claims the strategy makes. It says that a number of cities like Fallujah and others have been brought under control in the last year or so. Is that accurate?
PETER KENYON reporting:
In a way it is. Areas such as Fallujah, Najaf, Samarra that were previously quite explosive, the scenes of heavy battles, are now much, much calmer, and Iraqis are the front line there. The US forces have withdrawn to the periphery in many of those cases. Now what's a little misleading perhaps is to say that they are under control in the sense of being pacified because that's not completely accurate, and certainly getting there, to any of those places from here in Baghdad, can still be suicidal. The roads between here and there are extremely dangerous for Iraqis and foreigners alike. However, it is technically correct to say that Iraqi forces are now the face of security in many of those areas, and compared to previous months, they are much quieter.
INSKEEP: Well, let's listen to the way that President Bush described the quality of those Iraqi security forces.
Pres. BUSH: The facts are that Iraqi units are growing more independent and more capable. They are defending their new democracy with courage and determination. They're in the fight today and they will be in the fight for freedom tomorrow.
INSKEEP: This is critical, because the White House strategy calls for Iraqis to replace Americans in more and more critical combat situations, and the strategy document says that this has already happened, that Iraqis fought very well at a battle at a place called Tal Afar. Did they, Peter?
KENYON: Well, they did perform better than Iraqi forces in previous operations, but it's quite a bit more complicated than that. It's not just a sectarian issue, for instance; there's an ethnic component in Tal Afar that the president didn't get into. It's true, it's about 70 percent Sunni Muslim on the sectarian side, but both the Sunnis and Shiites there are mainly Turkmen. They have their own loyalties and divisions. In addition, many of the Iraqi fighters who went into Tal Afar came from the Kurdish peshmerga militia. If the president had said, `Look, we sent Kurds backed by Americans in to attack Turkmen Sunnis who were previously allied with Saddam,' that might not sound quite so positive or reassuring. But in general, yes, that unit did perform better.
INSKEEP: Well, now is that the norm with these more than 200,000 Iraqis that we're told have been trained, that many of them are still organized as they were as ethnic militias before the Americans came in?
KENYON: Well, basically if the president was trying to convey the image of US forces gradually but steadily being replaced by a professional Iraqi army loyal to a federal Iraqi government, that's very different from the picture we're hearing when we talk to officials here. Many of these units do have dual loyalties, and most Iraqis will say if push came to shove, many of those militiamen would be likely to back their militia commanders rather than their Iraqi army commanders. And the president did acknowledge in yesterday's speech--I don't know if it was for the first time--that these militias are a problem. But from the people I've been speaking with in the US military and Western diplomats, there basically is no plan to deal with that militia problem right now.
INSKEEP: The basic question on a lot of people's minds might be this: How soon will Iraqis be ready to take over the bulk of the fighting?
KENYON: Well, we may never get a deadline from the president, but the handover is happening. He's quite correct about that. Bases are being turned over. Yesterday a border position near Syria was turned over. And what that means, according to people I've been speaking with, is a short-term period of even more uncertainty because they're basically now, the Iraqi forces, going through on-the-job counterinsurgency training, and the violence that has been targeted at US forces will increasingly be targeted at Iraqis, many of whom are undersupplied, underarmored and undertrained.
INSKEEP: Peter, thanks very much.
KENYON: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Baghdad.
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