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Yes, But Can They Shoot Straight?

President Bush keeps promising us that, "As the Iraqi Army stands up, we will stand down."

But if a report this week in Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the U.S. military, is to be believed, we're not going to be "standing down" until a good while after hell freezes over. Here's the lead paragraph from the Stars and Stripes article:

HAWIJA, Iraq — Despite having spent a year in the Iraqi army, Pvt. Juma Ali Khalaf, who says he does not know how to read or write, has never been formally taught how to fire his AK-47, which he carries daily in his job as a checkpoint guard in northern Iraq.

The 21-year-old Sunni Arab soldier, who says he joined the army for one reason — “I need the money” — had a chance to learn basic soldiering skills this month during a weeklong basic training crash course taught by members of the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Ky.

But wait, it gets worse. The one week training course, which is held on the grounds of Forward Operating Base McHenry, is supposed to prepare these Iraqi troops to fight in what Stars and Stripes concedes is "one of northern Iraq’s most active insurgent areas." Unfvortunately, the results, noted the article, were not exactly encouraging:

Despite rosy predictions, the first group’s initial day of training got off to a shaky start. The small group of soldiers who showed up Saturday morning — originally they numbered 33, but two showed up five hours late — were scantily equipped for the mission. Between them, they carried six helmets. One complained that his boots did not fit. Others made a litany of requests for basic equipment.

The American trainers tried their best to mold these recruits into warriors capable of taking on hardened Jihadist fighters. However, as the Stars and Stripes piece noted:

Just an hour into shooting practice, a group of soldiers retreated to a nearby berm and put down their weapons, saying they did not want to continue.

But no matter. So as not to conflict with Pentagon and White House claims that over 200,000 Iraqi soldiers have been trained and equipped, all 35 of these Iraqi troops were deemed "ready for action" and graduated with full honors at the end of the training course.

Well, actually, the training was shortened to only five days, presumably because they couldn't keep the guys from wandering off any longer than that.


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