Support: The Americanization Of the Iraqi Army

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May 12, 2011: The Iraqi Army has added a number of support units that, in the past, they did without. All these support units are based on how divisions are organized in the U.S. Army. This is the model Iraqis are familiar with, and know works. For example, each of the 14 combat divisions now has an engineering battalion, and the heavy (tank and mechanized) divisions will have an engineering brigade (2-3 engineer battalions). There is only one heavy division (the 9th armored) at the moment, but that will change in the next decade. Each engineer battalion (called a regiment by the Iraqis) has a bridging company. One division also has an intelligence battalion, which all divisions will eventually get once sufficient personnel and equipment are available. All divisions also have signal (communications) companies, and these are being expanded to signal battalions. This will take a few years, again because of the shortage of skilled personnel and communications equipment.  

All divisions have a reconnaissance/commando company, and most divisions have already expanded these units to battalion size. The commando aspect is borrowed from the U.S. Marine Corps, which considers its recon troops elite. This includes "scout-snipers", another element the Iraqis are adopting for their recon battalions. Training of scout-snipers takes time, and Iraqis have accepted the fact that it's better to take the time to actually train these specialists, rather than (as many nations do) just call a unit something that it really isn't.

Having witnessed the American soldiers and marines in action for eight years, as well as fighting alongside them (or against them), the Iraqis have accepted the fact that the American techniques work, and that these skills are acquired only after a lot of hard training. Early on, some foreign police advisors, and American division commanders, took matters into their own hands and collected small numbers of eager and capable Iraqis, and gave them commando or SWAT training. The main need here was for some combat capable Iraqis who could work with American troops in raids and, in particular, operations inside mosques.

This worked, and soon the Iraqi Special Operations Force was established. The first battalion, the 36th Special Operations Commando battalion attracted applicants from all over Iraq. Some had served in Saddams commando units, but wanted nothing to do with joining the terrorists. Others were Kurds who had been trained by American Special Forces during the 1990s. By the end of 2004, the 36th battalion had 300 trained troops, and effective leadership. By this time, the Iraqi Special Operations Brigade was formed, and additional commando battalions were in training. The terrorists recognized this threat, and began using terror tactics on the families of commando troops. The answer to that was to build a base for the brigade, and their families.

For the police there was the similar Iraqi Security Forces Quick Response units. Basically SWAT teams, which gave police in heavily Sunni Arab areas some offensive forces. The SWAT teams could shoot it out with terrorist units and win. More importantly, the SWAT team commander learned how to outthink the terrorists.

The problem with commandos and SWAT teams is that you cannot create them in a few weeks. It takes careful selection of recruits, months of intense training, and then months on the job, often accompanied by American troops and Special Forces instructors, before the commando squads and platoons are able to operate on their own.

For the last six years, month by month, more Iraqis were identified as effective officers and NCOs. Once the commando platoons and SWAT teams are trained, they are the terrorists' worst nightmare. Moreover, they are very popular with American troops. The Iraqis became competent using the same tactics American troops use, were reliable, and, of course, knew the language and people. The usual drill was for American troops to go in and surround the area of the raid, secure entry and exit routes (clearing out roadside bombs and booby traps), and provide backup firepower. Then the Iraqis go in and execute the raid.

As more commando battalions and SWAT teams were formed, the rate of formation increased. That's because Iraqi instructors were recruited from existing battalions and teams. Now there is a Commando Division (the 17th), there will be several thousand Iraqis transferred to army divisions as experienced NCOs and officers.

The Iraqi Army has come a long way since 2003, when the old, Sunni Arab dominated force was disbanded, and a new one, loyal to a democratic government, and led by newly recruited and trained officers, was built from scratch. Because of that, the Sunni Arabs loyal to Saddam (and Sunni Arab rule) fought a four year terror campaign. One response was the army forming the best troops into special "intervention" units. This resulted in an army organization consisting of one "Intervention Corps" and three other corps of lesser quality. Most divisions have four brigades, and a total strength of about 12,000-15,000 troops and are now getting the support troops they need to back up the effective combat units.

These is still lots of corruption. Equipment and loyalty can still be bought. But there is also an understanding that the bad-old-ways are a liability, not just an opportunity for personal enrichment. The Iraqi troops not only look and operate like their American counterparts, but are also beginning to think like them, at least when it comes to appreciating what makes an army really effective.

 


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