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Iraq won't be ready to defend itself until 2020, Iraqi official says as US withdrawal date nears

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Iraq won't be ready to defend itself until 2020, Iraqi official says as US withdrawal date nears

BY Sean Alfano
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

Wednesday, August 11th 2010, 12:20 PM

An Iraqi Army official admitted Wednesday that his military needs 10 more years before it is ready to defend the country by itself.

U.S. politicians must "fill the void," once American armed forces fully withdraw at the end of next year, Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Babaker Zebari told Agence France-Presse.

"The army will be fully ready in 2020," he said.

His comments contradict the U.S.'s top commander in Iraq.

"We do believe they are ready to assume full operations," U.S. Gen. Ray Odierno said Sunday. "I think they can handle it."

Roughly 50,000 U.S. military personnel will remain in noncombat roles after Sept. 1, according to President Obama's plan, which calls for a full withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011.

"At this point, the withdrawal is going well, because they are still here," Zebari said.

Seven years after President George W. Bush's "shock and awe" military invasion of Iraq, the country still has not formed a government as Shiites and Sunnis remain stuck in political gridlock.

The power vacuum has created fears that once the U.S. military leaves Iraq, Al Qaeda will resume its violent terrorist attacks.

A report in the British newspaper The Guardian on Wednesday says that U.S.-backed Iraqi militias are joining Osama Bin Laden's terror gang because they pay better.

"Al Qaeda has made a big comeback here," Sheikh Sabah al-Janabi, a leader in the group called Sons of Iraq based in Hila, a town 60 miles south of Baghdad, told The Guardian.

"This is my neighborhood and I know every single person living here. And I know where their allegiances lie now."

The Sons of Iraq, also known as the Awakening Council, has battled Al Qaeda since 2006 and was under the control of the U.S. government.

However, when the group became the responsibility of the Iraqi government at the end of 2008, members raised complaints about not being paid on time, The Guardian reported.

A second Sons of Iraq leader says some of his men have received their money for three months and that Al Qaeda has intensified its recruitment efforts.

"My people are being offered more money," Sheikh Moustafa al-Jabouri, who controls a pair of Baghdad suburbs, said.

"I warned the Americans and the Iraqi government that if they continue neglecting us, the Awakening Council will become even more desperate and will look for other ways to make money," he said.

"It is an easy choice to rejoin the terrorists."

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