Dempsey: US 'Frustrated' By Delay In Program To Equip Iraqi Forces

The visiting Pentagon chief has said that the United States is frustrated by delays in the foreign military sales program to equip the Iraqi security forces.

Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey on Tuesday met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Iraqi counterpart Gen. Zebari Babakir and discussed about the United States' efforts to equip and train Iraqi security forces via the Office of Security Cooperation Iraq.

More than 225 U.S. troops, seven Defense Department civilians, 530 security assistance team members and more than 4,000 contracted personnel are currently in the office at the Iraqi government's invitation.

Dempsey told reporters in Baghdad that "all sides - including the U.S. Army chief of the office at the American Embassy, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen - are frustrated by delays in some aspects of the foreign military sales program."

The Iraqi government has committed to bear the lion's share of the program to equip its security forces, which costs $12.7 billion this year. About $1.5 billion comes from the United States.

The U.S. General also discussed with Iraqi leaders in general terms how Syria could evolve. The Iraqi Premier is deeply concerned about Syria breaking up along ethnic or religious lines, Dempsey said. He is particularly worried about these divisions spilling over the border to Iraq where there are many of the same divisions.

"At the same time, there's also the opportunity for Iraq to dam against that flood," Dempsey said.

Maliki's sense is that the Syrian example is so stark and dire for the region that it might be a reason to galvanize Iraq to pull together, he said.

"Now it may have the exact opposite, too," he said. "But there's an opportunity there and my report is that he sees it. I sensed that he understands he can play a positive role in the region."

Maliki heads a democratically elected government, and as such, Iraq can become the major leader in the region as other states look to develop democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring, Dempsey said. If Iraq can help other nations in the region, "I think Maliki could be historic," according to Dempsey.

The relationship between Iraq and the United States is improving because U.S. officials did what they said they would do, the Chairman said. When the United States and Iraq negotiated the agreement for U.S. troop pullout from Iraq in December, many Iraqis believed it would not happen, he said.

But the U.S. government proved good to its word, and that has made the relationship easier, Dempsey said. "We scaled our physical presence way down, while not scaling down our commitment to the nation," he said. "I don't know if they believed that a year or two ago," Dempsey added.

The leaders also discussed aspects of the military-to-military relationship - bilateral exercises, education, and equipment.

Dempsey had commanded the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad during 2003-2004, and worked as the Commander of the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq from 2005 to 2007.

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