Infantry: February 7, 2005

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The new Iraqi army is being created the hard way, by creating commando type units. Normally, you train regular troops, then select from the best of those for commandoes. The commando first approach is slow going, but works a lot better than the original plan. Training a new Iraqi army and police force was seen, from the beginning, as difficult. Two years ago, there was an urgent need for armed Iraqis who could simply patrol populated areas to keep a lid on street crime, and armed men to guard government facilities, infrastructure (power plants and the like), and the oil industry. 

Saddam didnt leave much behind to build on. The old Iraqi police were corrupt and not very effective. The real power on the streets were various intelligence, secret police and riot police forces that were, first and last, loyal to Saddam. Their second most important task was terrorizing any Iraqis thought to be actively disloyal to Saddam. This was not rule of law, it was rule of the jungle. Few of Saddams peacekeepers are available for hire anyway, as they either had blood on their hands, or were back to their terrorist activities for Baath Party or al Qaeda groups. 

So for the first year, men were quickly recruited, and given a few weeks of additional training. Those taken into the army had some prior military experience, because all Iraqis were subject to conscription. The training was as much to evaluate the new recruits as it was to refresh their skills. While Iraqi conscripts got basic military training, they used their weapons very little while on active service, and hardly at all after they got discharged and entered (mostly on paper) the reserves. Saddams army was top heavy with officers, having 80,000 of them for a 500,000 man force. There were also 130,000 NCOs. But unlike Western armies, Iraqi NCOs were not allowed to operate with much independence. They were generally treated badly by officers, and considered little more than, senior soldiers. From the beginning, it was apparent that the biggest problem, with creating new Iraqi police and armed forces, was finding capable and responsible leadership.

Initially, the new Iraqi police and troops assigned to Kurdish and Shia Arab areas had little trouble. By the middle of 2004, those regions were well policed and safe. But in the Sunni Arab areas of central and western Iraq, the anti-government forces were often able to overwhelm Iraqi police and soldiers. Moreover, the anti-government forces tried to terrorize police and soldiers into giving up their jobs, or joining in the first place. This was done by threatening families of policemen and soldiers. This threat was partly dealt with by the men themselves, at least those who lived in neighborhoods with lots of family and friends who had guns. Each Iraqi household is allowed to keep one weapon, usually an AK-47. But this did not protect soldiers and cops on their way to and from work. Soldiers generally lived at home, because the old Iraqi army military bases had either been bombed in 2003, or were not used by coalition forces. Because the terrorists had stolen a lot of Iraqi army uniforms, and often carried out attacks wearing them, off duty Iraqi soldiers were not allowed to carry their weapons. This made it easier for coalition troops to nail terrorists pretending to be troops. But this also made off duty soldiers, driving to and from work, subject to ambush. This meant special arrangements had to be made to guard Iraqi troops as they commuted, or at least the ones that were traveling through areas where terrorists were known to be operating.

But month by month, more Iraqis were identified as effective officers and NCOs. Unfortunately,  the few thousand men who filled the bill were spread thinly across a force of some 150,000 police and troops. What this meant, in early 2004, was that where was no Iraqi units that could be used for offensive operations. Meanwhile 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. But 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 are well versed in the same tactics American troops use, are reliable, and, of course, know the language and people. The usual drill is 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 back up firepower. Then the Iraqis go in and execute the raid. Doing this is a lot easier with the American troops providing all the support and backup. 

As more commando battalions and SWAT teams are formed, the rate of formation increases. Thats because Iraqi instructors are taken from existing battalions and teams. In another year, there will be several thousand Iraqis trained, or in training, for commando and SWAT operations. This is what will wipe out the terrorists. The Iraqi police can sort through the arrested a lot more quickly than can Americans, even Americans who speak Arabic. The terrorists also find it demoralizing when they are taken down by Iraqi troops or police. The terrorists recognize the threat, but now regard the Iraqi commando and SWAT operators as difficult targets, just as they do American troops. The result is that this year, you are going to see more battles between Iraqis and terrorists this year, battles the terrorists are going to usually lose. 

 


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