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Iraqi generals say their soldiers ready, well-trained

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 16, 2009) -- Iraqi soldiers have been well trained and are prepared to defend Iraq, say two of the nation's generals.

During a visit to Washington, D.C., Sept. 14, Iraqi Staff Maj. Gen. Mohammed Al-Askari, with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and Iraqi Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, with Baghdad operations, spoke about the current status of the Iraqi military and the impact of U.S.-led training on force readiness.

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"The Iraqi forces are conducting their jobs in an exemplary manner," Atta said. "This is testimony that they have received good training from U.S forces. We are confident that all the training they received before will only enhance their execution out there in the field, and are looking forward for more."

When the U.S. withdrew security forces from Iraqi cities in June, Atta said many didn't believe Iraqi forces could hold their own, and fill the security gap left by departing Americans. But he said Iraqi forces have performed as trained.

"The Iraqi forces did a great job after the drawdown of the U.S. forces from Baghdad and all cities," Atta said. "It was quite a challenge. A lot of people thought Iraqi forces were not up to task and up to speed -- but they are proven wrong. Iraqi forces did a great job."

Now that American security forces have begun the long transition out of Iraq, Al-Askari said Iraqi security forces will increase their counter-terrorism efforts.

"As you know, terrorism targets innocent civilians, they never target military and police institutions," he said. "So what our approach is -- is to double up our intelligence networks and most importantly we need the support of the public. With these two, we will be able to face terrorism -- and it's an ongoing battle."

Atta also said that despite the efforts of terrorists, Iraqi security forces have been able to meet their recruiting goals.

"Terrorist groups and militias have always targeted the recruitment in our Iraqi Security Forces ranks," Atta said. "But we have faced this challenge and we fought back, and we did not allow them to succeed in their goal of trying to minimize our recruitment."

Recently, Iraqi officials discovered that the nation's military owns jet fighter aircraft -- a total of 19 jets, including both MiG-19s and MiG-23s. Those aircraft are currently stored in Serbia. Al-Askari said former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had signed a contract with that nation to have maintenance performed on the aircraft -- and that getting them back now is not just about regaining equipment, but about accountability to Iraqi taxpayers.

"This is a question of principals, not a question of jet fighters only," Al-Askari said. "Saddam Hussein signed a contract with the Serbian government a few years ago to maintain (the aircraft). We view these as goods of the Iraqi people, of taxpayers -- of the Republic of Iraq."

Al-Askari said a delegation was sent to Serbia to inquire about the aircraft.

"They were well received," he said. "Our stand right now, at this point is, if they are able to fix them and maintain them, then we will be more than happy to take them back as we lack air defense capabilities. If not, we will find ways of selling them, or finding other ways of benefiting from them. But again, our stand here, is to bring back what belongs to the Iraqi people."

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