Support: January 26, 2005

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A largely ignored military activity, training troops and commanders, is now getting a lot of attention because of problems encountered training the new Iraqi police force and army. Back in the Summer of 2003, it was thought this would be a pretty easy thing to do. There were several firms that had decades of experience training Arabs (particularly Saudi Arabians), and American troops, like Special Forces, had also had experience training Arabs. There were known problems, but there were also examples of excellent Arab military units. The problem was, there were too few of these exemplary units, and too many that were inept, inefficient and not very effective in a fight. Historically, the Iraqis have regularly turned out some of the sorriest troops in the Arab world. And Arabs have not been noted for military prowess for a long time. The Turks, Germans, British and French all tried turning Arabs into effective combat troops with varying degrees of success. The problem was not so much with the troops, as it was with developing effective military leadership (NCOs and officers.) The simplest solution was always to add some non-Arab leaders to each company of battalion. In some cases, enough Arabs became career soldiers, and assumed leadership positions, to create first rate combat units. But this was not encouraged, for Arab armies were noted for overthrowing the governments they were supposed to serve. This was not unique to Arab nations, but the response, by Arab leaders, was to avoid developing competent military leadership. Put another way, loyalty was more highly prized than combat ability. Arab armies had not faced a real military threat for a long time. Until the early 20th century, most Arab populations were under the rule of various non-Arab powers (Turks, Britons, French), and from the beginning of independent Arab states, the armed forces was the kingmaker (or usually king un-maker, followed by a president for life.)

Most Iraqis are a bit nervous about having an Iraqi army full of well trained and led troops. If past history is any guide, such an army will not protect democracy, but bring forth another Saddam. With that spirit, too many Iraqi Arabs joining the police or army were in it mainly for the money. The police and army were always seen as corrupt, even by Iraqi standards, institutions. But with the Baath Party trying to make a comeback, and al Qaeda eagerly helping them, the army and police found themselves in too many situations where the payback was a bullet in the head, not just another bribe. While many Kurdish, and some Arab units, hung together when shot at, too many others did not. The big problem was not that some of the troops ran away, but that most of the officers and NCOs led the dash to safety. 

By the Summer of 2004, the official policy of setting up traditional training centers for Iraqi troops, NCOs and officers was bent a bit as American combat units increasingly took an active role in training Iraqis for combat. This was sort of an adopt an Iraqi combat unit program. Most of the Iraqis so trained for helping out in providing security in the area the American units operated in. One feature of this program that was seen as particularly useful was in having some American troops permanently assigned to the Iraqi unit. Although these guys usually still had to go through a translator, a lot of what they passed on was non-verbal. When there was some combat, the Iraqi troops could see up close how the Americans operated. This worked with the police as well. Successful raids on police stations in Mosul ended in late 2004, when a few American troops were added to each shift at those police bases. There were still attacks. But fewer of the Iraqi police tried to flee, because the American troops immediately began fighting back at the attackers, and most Iraqi police took the hint and joined in. 

Going into early 2005, a lot of new training ideas were in play. The independent efforts by many American brigades, to train Iraqis, proved to be a source of what worked, and what didnt. In late 2004, an American training division was shipped to Iraq, and many of the personnel in that division are now working with small Iraqi army units. 

Creating a competent Iraqi army is going to be easier than keeping the army out of politics down the road. But stopping Baath and al Qaeda are necessary to make sure this is a tomorrow worth worrying about.

 


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