Egypt's offer to train Iraq troops ignored

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI International Editor   |   Dec. 16, 2005 at 8:36 AM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- The United States is overwhelmed in Iraq as it struggles to train Iraqi forces, hoping they will eventually replace American combat troops, in turn allowing for a gradual reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Only then, once properly trained Iraqi forces are in charge of their own destiny, can American troops start to deploy out of the area and begin trickling back home.

But before any of this can happen, Iraq needs its soldiers, officers and security personnel trained. Yet, inexplicably, the Bush administration, which in the past has asked for help from Arab and European countries, has not responded to offers from Egypt to help train Iraqi troops, said Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's ambassador to Washington.

Egypt is one country that has repeatedly offered its services to Iraq and to the United States but, he says, the offers on military training are consistently ignored.

Shortly after the capitulation of Saddam Hussein's regime, when U.S. forces entered Baghdad in 2003, Paul Bremer, then the U.S. administrator in Iraq, dissolved the Iraqi army and security force and discharged anyone from the civil service who had been a member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

Since then the Bush administration has sought Arab and international participation to help rebuild Iraq's military and its security forces.

Few countries have stepped up to the plate. Among the few that have are Germany, Jordan and Egypt. Germany and Jordan were taken up on their offers and thousands of Iraqi troops traveled to those two countries to undergo military training. But inexplicably, repeated offers from Egypt went unanswered.

Meanwhile, the Iraq military remains in desperate need for additional training as it struggles to rebuild a military and security apparatus capable of taking over the task of securing the country -- a job currently in the hands of the U.S. military.

"We have the capacity to train about 3,000 Iraqi troops in Egypt every three months," said the Egyptian ambassador, speaking to a group of journalists over breakfast in his Washington residence Thursday morning.

While thousands of Iraqis were sent to train in Germany and Jordan, only "146 or 147 Iraqi troops have trained in Egypt so far," laments the ambassador.

Maybe the ambassador did not approach the right people?

"I spoke to the Pentagon, I spoke to the people at the State Department and I spoke to the National Security Council," he said. The ambassador says he did not get a clear-cut answer from practically anyone as to why Egypt's repeated offers over a period of almost two years were ignored.

"It's at this point where I stopped begging," said Fahmy.

United Press International asked the Pentagon why this was so. Col. Fred Wellman, public affairs official for the Security Transition Command in Iraq, explained: "We have many training offers from all over the world. I am not the person in charge of saying 'Yes' or 'No.' There is an overall training plan. We check all the offers. We have offers to train them in Germany, or also in individual schools within the U.S. There is, for instance, a training operation in Jordan. But it is better for the Iraqis to be trained within their own soil."

Moving on, Fahmy commented on the Iraqi elections as the country went to the polls on Thursday.

"The elections in Iraq should be applauded." It was a first step in the right direction. The real test, said the ambassador, "will be what happens three to five years form now.

"Democracy in Iraq is not only about holding elections," he said. "The real challenge is how they look at their constitution and how they strengthen it to make it inclusive," he added.

However, warned the Egyptian diplomat, the danger of a breakup of Iraq still persists, and that "will lead to an imbalance in the region, in the Persian Gulf."

"In that case you will have more chaos than stability," said the Egyptian diplomat.

"It does not matter if you were for the war or against the war," said the ambassador. At this point, it is important to move forward. As for the withdrawal, Fahmy said, "There has to be evidence on the ground that you intend to withdraw by building up Iraqi capacity."

In response to a question about the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and the prospects for the future, the ambassador said he believed "the Bush administration is currently overwhelmed by developments in Iraq, but we would need them to continue with us as we move forward on the Palestinian-Israeli negotiation."

The Rafah terminal arrangement was good but needed to be followed by a peace process because while the ambassador accepted Israel's security concerns, now you cannot continue having an Israeli checking over what Palestinians or Europeans do.

"Ultimately you can't have a case where you say you are sovereignty but I decide." This means Israel cannot claim it has accorded Palestinians their sovereignty but withhold it at the same time.


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