Iraqi Military Not Ready For Solo

General George Casey, commanding general of U. S. forces in Iraq, discusses operations and strategy in Iraq during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday, Sept. 29, 2005. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
AP
Only one Iraqi army battalion seems capable of fighting without U.S. help, a senior American general told Congress on Thursday, leaving some lawmakers worried about worsening conditions there despite his assurances that the overall military strategy is working.

The comments came on a day when three suicide attackers detonated car bombs nearly simultaneously in a mainly Shiite town north of Baghdad, killing at least 60 people and wounding 70 others, a hospital official said. In the western town of Ramadi, the military said a roadside bomb killed five American soldiers.

Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the number of Iraqi army battalions rated by U.S. officers as capable of fighting without U.S. help had dropped from three to one.

That equals roughly 700 soldiers. Casey did not explain the reduction
but insisted many more -- roughly 21,000 -- can

. He pointed out that in the recent assault on Tal Afar, Iraqi troops outnumbered American troops for the first time, CBS News correspondent David Martin reports from the Pentagon.

However, this prompted expressions of concern by Democrats and Republicans alike, at a time when many lawmakers and members of the public are growing restless about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and the nearly 2,000 American troops who have died there.

"That contributes to a loss of public confidence in how the war is going," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said of Casey's remarks. "It doesn't feel like progress when we hear today that there is only one Iraqi battalion fully capable."

In related developments:

  • A judge has ruled that pictures of detainee abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison must be released over U.S. government claims that they could damage America's image.
  • A Pentagon analyst charged with providing classified information to an Israeli official and members of a pro-Israeli lobbying group will plead guilty, according to the U.S. District Court clerk's office. Lawrence A. Franklin, 58, of Kearneysville, W.Va., was indicted in June on charges of leaking classified materials — including information about potential attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq — to two members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and an Israeli official.
  • In two attacks, gunmen opened fire on a Shiite bakery shop in the Dora neighborhood, killing three civilians, and on a minibus carrying government cleaners to work, killing two and wounding seven, police said. Elsewhere in the capital, two civilians and four police officers were killed in drive-by shootings, and a 12-year-old child living in a homeless shelter died when a mortar exploded nearby, police said.
  • North of Baghdad, three members of the Al-Khalis city council were killed by gunmen on their way home from a meeting, and an Iraqi woman was killed and three other civilians were wounded when five mortar rounds hit them in Samara city, police said.
  • On Wednesday, in a suicide bombing in northwestern Iraq, a woman disguised in a man's robes and headdress slipped into a line of army recruits and detonated explosives strapped to her body, killing at least six recruits and wounding 35. It was the first known suicide attack by a woman in Iraq's insurgency.

    The Iraqi troop ratings are important because the Pentagon has built its Iraq strategy on the expectation that it can start bringing American troops home as the Iraqis gradually take the lead in the fight against the insurgency.

    CBS News correspondent Lara Logan reports from Baghdad that the

    . If U.S. forces pulled out tomorrow, there wouldn't be any Iraqi battalions that could fight alone and that means everything from logistics to signals, to heavy weapons to close air support.

    Also, while Iraq's forces have improved, penetration by pro-Iranian militias into the battalions raises questions over their reliability, Logan adds.

    Underscoring the continued U.S. presence in Iraq, the House on Thursday passed, 348-65, a bill funding Pentagon operations at roughly current levels as part of a stopgap funding bill for federal agencies whose budgets will not have passed by Saturday, the start of the 2006 fiscal year. The Senate was expected to pass the measure later by Friday.

    The effort to train Iraqi troops and police has progressed far slower than once expected, and Casey conceded it has been hurt by infiltration of the army and Iraqi police by insurgents and their sympathizers.

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he was troubled that with such uneven progress in training the Iraqi army, the Bush administration is still planning for the possible withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Iraq next year.