Senior American commanders in Iraq are publicly complaining that delays in delivering radios, body armor and other equipment have hobbled their ability to build an effective Iraqi security force that can ultimately replace United States troops here.
The lag in supplying the equipment, because of a contract dispute, may even have contributed to a loss of lives among Iraqi recruits, commanders say. A spokesman for the company that was awarded the original contract said much of the equipment had already been produced and was waiting to be shipped to Iraq.
The frustration had been voiced privately up the chain of command by a number of officers, and broke into public debate in recent days. Training and equipping more than 200,000 Iraqi security forces has been one of the top stated priorities of the Bush administration.
Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, praised the work of Iraqi security forces helping to secure his area of control in western Iraq, which includes the dangerous region around Falluja and the Syrian border. But he said the effort had faltered because of a lack of combat gear for the police, border units and the new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.
"Not only are the security forces bravely leading the fight against terrorists, they are in some cases insisting on doing it alone," General Swannack said 11 days ago. "They want to defeat these enemies of a new and free Iraq. If we had the equipment for these brave young men, we would be much farther along."
He said that in his region of western Iraq, which includes a long stretch of the Syrian border, foreign fighters, their money and weapons were suspected of entering Iraq along smugglers' routes. In this area, he said, "we are still short a significant amount of vehicles, radios and body armor to properly equip" the new Iraqi force.
Commanders in other parts of Iraq have also warned of serious problems. "There are training, organizational and equipment shortfalls in the Iraqi security forces," said Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, the new American commander in northern Iraq. "There's no question about that."
The American military also suffered from shortages of crucial equipment during the war and even into the current phase of stability operations. In particular, soldiers complained of an insufficient supply of the newest bulletproof vests and, when improvised explosives began taking lives, of armored Humvees. Their complaints have been echoed loudly by members of Congress.
But the equipment for America's combat troops and that for Iraqi security services is obtained through separate contracting and procurement processes.
The first batch of equipment for the Iraqis has been paid for and was to have been delivered under a $327 million contract to a small company, Nour USA Ltd., of Vienna, Va. But the Pentagon canceled that deal this month after protests by several competing companies led to a determination that Army procurement officers in Iraq botched the contract. Army officials found no fault with Nour.
Sloppy contract language, staff turnover, incomplete paperwork and stressful combat conditions on the ground led to a badly flawed process, senior Army officials in Washington said. "I've seen things go wrong before, but I've never seen anything like this," said a senior Army official with 28 years' experience in government contracting. "We messed up."
The Army is rushing to seek new bids for the contract, but officials said that could take two to three months. In the meantime, officials are looking to see if they can use other funds and piggyback on existing contracts for weapons and other equipment that federal agencies like the F.B.I. already have to speed the delivery of vital matriel to Iraq.
"Part of it is just the magnitude of how much was needed - thousands of police cars, hundreds of thousands of uniforms," Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, the deputy director of operations for the Army staff in Washington, said in an interview. "It was just a lot harder to get stuff in than we anticipated."
The $327 million contract was to supply several battalions of the new Iraqi security forces with rifles, uniforms, body armor and other equipment. The original contract, awarded in January, did not specify the number of troops to be supplied. Instead it identified specific amounts of equipment - for instance, 200 trucks and 20,000 compasses. That contract was to be the first of several to equip the Iraqi forces.
A spokesman for Nour USA, Robert R. Hoopes Jr., said the company had protested the Army's cancellation of the contract, saying it could cost $20 million to $30 million in termination cost to the company and its suppliers.
Mr. Hoopes said much of the equipment in the original contract - including radios, compasses, canteens and body armor - had already been produced and was sitting in warehouses in the United States and Eastern Europe, waiting to be delivered to Iraq. "The stuff is sitting on the dock, ready to go," Mr. Hoopes said in a telephone interview.
General Swannack took command of his region in September, and the required equipment still has not arrived as he turns over his area to the Marines. To help solve the problem, the general dipped into his commander's discretionary fund, to buy radios, body armor and vehicles for Iraqi security forces.
Other commanders have also spent division financial resources to buy combat equipment already financed by Congress in a supplemental money package for Iraq.
But those expenditures restrict the commanders' ability to spend money on things like rebuilding schools, mosques and hospitals, part of what they view as a critically important effort to stabilize the nation and build rapport with the Iraqis.
American officers in Iraq responsible for local training even go so far as to say the slow delivery of equipment may have contributed to deaths among new Iraqi security forces, who did not have effective protection and could not radio for backup troops, who in any case may not have had the vehicles to speed to assist their colleagues under fire. "Bureaucracy kills," an American military officer in Iraq said.
Other officers in Baghdad who are involved in creating a new Iraqi security architecture, but who discussed the equipment problem on the condition that they not be identified, described a new concern: that they now will be caught between a cycle of famine and feast.
Having gone months awaiting the gear financed by Congress, they fear that they suddenly may be overwhelmed with equipment and money once the bottleneck is cleared, and that it may be difficult to manage the flood of matrial rushed to them haphazardly to solve the problem and quiet their complaints.
One American division completing its tour in Iraq was able to avoid those difficulties, simply as a matter of fate.
The First Armored Division, responsible for the security of Baghdad and central Iraq, took control of an area in which a number of military warehouses were situated. Using gear captured from the old Iraqi security forces, division officers were able to equip all seven battalions of the new Iraqi defense corps that they recruited and trained.
Nour USA's president, A. Huda Farouki, is a friend of Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council who has close ties to several senior Pentagon officials. But Nour executives and senior Army officials say that relationship played no role in awarding the contract to Nour.
Instead, Army officials blamed the small contracting office in Baghdad, which had little experience in handling contracts of this size, for several mistakes.
The language used to describe the required work was "so ambiguous, we just couldn't defend it against the protests," said the senior Army official in Washington. Several important documents related to evaluating competing bids were never written, the official said.
"They were overwhelmed, but that's no excuse for not having done the procurement according to the procurement rules," the Army official said. He said the new contract, which Nour can reapply for, would be handled by seasoned contracting officers in Washington.