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ARLINGTON, Va. — A national security expert “has a valid point” when he says that turning over large portions of battle space to Iraqi forces is meaningless if most of that land is desert, a top U.S. commander in Iraq said Friday.

But Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the U.S. commander in charge of training Iraq forces, told Pentagon reporters he “stands by” the March 17 assessment of his colleague, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Baghdad.

Chiarelli, who is commanding general of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, said March 17 that the coalition’s goal is to turn over control of 75 percent of the country’s territory to the Iraqi security forces by summer’s end.

But Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, believes the hand-over emphasis is “nonsense.”

With almost the entire western half of Iraq virtually empty desert, “the figures vastly overestimate the actual area of influence and are at least as meaningless as the worst reporting on pacification in Vietnam,” Cordesman wrote in a March 22 paper for CSIS.

“The Iraqi forces don’t control anything like these areas, ignoring what ‘control’ of empty desert means.”

Dempsey said Cordesman “has a valid point.”

“The battle space that has been handed over [to Iraqi forces thus far] is, to some degree, in those parts of the country that have achieved a level of security — both because of the capability of the security forces and also because there’s less threat,” Dempsey said.

However, Dempsey said, “That’s not true in Baghdad, where about 50 percent of the city is under direct control of the Iraqi security forces.”

Moreover, Dempsey said, “That point begins to lose its validity as we continue to hand over space.”

“And 75 percent of Iraq certainly will include more than a few places that are both heavily populated and very contested,” Dempsey said.

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