BAGHDAD - Iraq's defense chief has said his military will not be fully ready to defend Iraq from external threats until 2020 to 2024, according to a U.S. inspector's report released on Sunday.
Lieutenant General Babakir Zebari has repeatedly warned that Iraq's security forces, rebuilt after the 2003 invasion that ousted strongman Saddam Hussein, would not be ready for years.
US President Barack Obama announced on Oct. 21 that American troops would fully withdraw from Iraq by year-end, as scheduled under a 2008 security pact between the two countries.
Both Iraqi and US military leaders have said the army and police are capable of containing internal threats from Sunni insurgents and Shi'ite militias that launch scores of attacks monthly, but that they lag in external defense.
"General Zebari suggested that the MOD (Ministry of Defense) will be unable to execute the full spectrum of external-defense missions until sometime between 2020 and 2024, citing ... funding shortfalls as the main reason for the delay," said the report from the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).
Zebari said the air force would not be able to defend Iraqi airspace until 2020 and is not capable of supporting ground combat operations, citing a long-delayed deal to buy F-16 warplanes from the United States, the SIGIR report said.