Leadership: Iraqi Sergeants Surge


April 25,2008: While the Iraqi Army grows in numbers, what counts more is the increasing number of trained, and combat experienced sergeants (NCOs) and officers showing up. The Iraqi armed forces have long been regarded as the least effective force in the Middle East. Arab armies in general, for cultural and political reasons, are poor quality. Saddam had some decent units in his Republican Guard. But these men were all Sunni Arabs, selected more for their loyalty to Saddam, than for their military capabilities. Allowed to train, and given the best equipment available, the Republican Guard could be depended on to stand and fight. But against Western troops, they were quickly crushed. Thus it was necessary to start from scratch after 2003, when the Sunni Arab led army was disbanded.

At the beginning of 2007, the Iraqi Army had 115 combat battalions, of which 93 could be used for combat operations (although only about ten were good enough for offensive operations.) The National Police had another 27 battalions. These were good for police work, not for attacking areas held by a well-armed and determined enemy. Three months later, the army had 171 battalions, while the police had 36. By the end of the year, the army had 187 battalions (and about 200,000 troops), while the National Police had 44 battalions.

The army has a basic training system that is turning out over 10,000 graduates a month. More importantly, there are officer and NCO training programs that are producing several thousand graduates a year. Iraqi NCOs and officers have been getting combat experience over the past few years, and those who demonstrate ability have been promoted and given positions of responsibility. This often required pressure from American military advisors, since the pervasive corruption still found in Iraq, continues to influence promotions and assignments in the military. Many Iraqi politicians still can't comprehend the need for merit promotions in the military.

As happened during the two World Wars of the last century, where the vast majority of officers and NCOs were civilians when the wars started, after two or three years of fighting, you have a growing number of men who have survived because of leadership and combat skills. Same thing is happening in Iraq, but this time around the experience is being institutionalized, and experienced NCOs and officers are systematically transmitting their skills to new recruit. The Iraqi Army will never be the same.




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