The Washington Post:
Iraqi police commandos, backed by U.S. troops, seized a suspected insurgent training camp north of Baghdad after an intense battle which left several dead, U.S. and Iraqi officials said on Wednesday.
The specialist commando unit attacked the militant camp, near a lake about 100 miles northwest of Baghdad, on Tuesday morning. After encountering heavy rebel fire, the commandos called for U.S. air and ground reinforcements.
“An early assessment of the site indicates a facility for training anti-Iraqi forces,” said Major Richard Goldenberg, spokesman for the U.S. 42nd Infantry Division, using the U.S. military’s term for insurgents.
This was in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown.
I wonder if these were part of the same Iraqi police commando unit that got so much attention last fall. At the time, it was reported that there were two operational battalions and another in training. Two additional battalions had been recruited but had not begun training at that time (mid-October).
Seven Iraqi police commandos were killed in the fighting and six were wounded, Goldenberg said. There were no details on how many insurgents were killed or wounded. No U.S. soldiers were wounded or killed.
An Iraqi source at a U.S.-Iraqi joint command center in nearby Tikrit said 80 insurgents and 11 commandos were killed in the battle, which he said went on for more than 12 hours. There was no independent confirmation of any of those details.
I wrote in the post on the police commando unit:
Do the insurgents and terrorists fear the creation of these new military and security forces? Just look at who gets bombed. More often than not, it’s men lining up to enlist.
You can’t just snap your fingers and deploy a trained army. Even if the Iraqi military had been 100% loyal to the interim government, they would not have had the capability to deal with the things that they are going to have to deal with. Vetting, training, and equipping a capable force takes time.
This SWAT-type unit was put together rather quickly and it would be nice if more projects could be this successful this quickly, but the overall pace must be measured.
Remember, if the long-term plan in Iraq is going to be successful, it’s not these police forces and the current citizens of Iraq that need to buy into the program. It’s their children and grandchildren. We won’t know until they’re running Iraq.
These guys just need to hold the country together long enough to reach that point in time.
It really seems to me that the Iraqi forces have picked it up several notches in the past few months. There’s no doubt that they still have a long way to go, but the experience they’re getting and the time spent training (and being observed) is giving them and their leaders a chance to build a more capable unit. And, undoubtedly, throw out some bad apples.
An MSNBC.com story on the same battle includes some comments from visiting US congressmen, who somehow managed to take time off from the Baseball Steroids crisis and the Terry Shiavo hearings to spend a little time on more mundane things:
Tuesday’s gunbattle came as seven-member U.S. congressional delegation paid a one-day visit to Baghdad, and the man expected to serve as the next prime minister, Shiite politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari, reportedly told the group he is in no hurry for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California who strongly opposed the war, said al-Jaafari didn’t seem as “upbeat as our people, who seem to be very excited about the quality of the Iraqi police force.”
“My sense was he was certainly in no rush to hand over security to his new police force,” she said.
Well, Senator, it’s all relative. I am excited about the quality of the Iraqi police force, but that’s not the same as saying that we should hand everything over right now and get out. But if it allows you to get in a little jab, go for it. It’s important to keep in mind that excitement over the improved performance of Iraqi forces doesn’t mean that US troops should all come right home, and I thank her for reminding us all.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., agreed, saying that “it’s too early to declare success.” But Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., expressed “quiet optimism” about Iraq’s future.
That’s probably a little more constructive way to put things. And with the splendid job Congress has done straightening out the steroids and Shiavo issues, I’m glad they’re on the job on Baghdad.
UPDATE: Paul at Wizbang noted the story from yesterday about the Iraqi citizen who took down some tangos and wrote:
What makes it more humorous is that Senator Barbara Boxer, who is best known for her zealotry on gun control, was in Baghdad at the time. I wonder if she thinks these citizens should be carrying guns?
In Barbara Boxer’s world, the citizens would have no guns and the terrorists would. Think she saw the error of her ways this week? I wouldn’t hold your breath.