Senior Iraqi Army officers and defense experts have urged the government to secure all the needs of the country’s fledgling armed forces. Ending a meeting on how best to defend the country amid an upsurge of terrorist attacks and violence, the participants also called for the creation of more efficient intelligence agencies.

“In order to implement plans to counter the terrorist threat, the armed forces must be supplied with weapons and equipment commensurate with the task.

“If we are to uncover terrorist cells both inside and outside the country, the country’s intelligence services must be improved” the conference statement said.

The meeting comes amid reports that most of the country’s estimated 190,000 men under arms are unfit to fight. Without direct U.S. involvement, Iraq’s military would easily be overwhelmed by anti-government forces.

After widespread reporting of massive corruption under the former [interim] government, the Ministry of Defense is striving to change its public image. Conference participants urged the government to take “tough measures” against groups and factions backing terror, and said that authorities need to reach out to tribal leaders and clerics in a campaign to expose “the terrorist elements” and that Iraq has become “a theater for criminal operations and terrorist acts,” requiring more stringent border controls.

Other advice gleaned from the conference Iraqi Defense Conference:

-- The government should set up three regional anti-terror squads: one in the north, one in the center and one in the south.

-- The government should learn from the experience of the Iraqi Kurds in the north, who have largely insulated their areas from violence and terror attacks.

-- Iraq needs “a national army” with loyal only to the good of the nation. No member of the armed forces should have allegiances to any religious, ethnic or sectarian faction, the statement said.