April 2, 2006:
Some senior American officers, and apparently many senior Iraqi ones as well, are beginning to complain about the U.S. Department of Defense's approach to building the new Iraqi army. While in the early stages of the battle against terrorists and anti-government forces, it was important to get troops on the streets as quickly as possible, there's been very little attention paid to building the administrative infrastructure necessary to sustain those troops. While several billions have been spent to recreate the Iraqi Army, most of the money has gone to recruit, train, and equip troops and get them into action as soon as possible. Less than $50 million has been spent on developing a Ministry of Defense. At this rate, it will take years for the Iraqi Army to be able to stand on its own feet, without logistical and administrative support from the United States. American commanders insist that this is all a matter of priorities, and that military support units are now being formed.
This administrative weakness is an important contributor to the widespread corruption in the Army, as well as to the relatively high AWOL rate. Pay for the troops comes in lump sum cash deliveries to their commanders, who are then supposed to distribute the money. Some commanders pocket a portion of money. Others pay only those troops who belong to their own sect or clan, leaving the rest of the men to fend for themselves. This has led to a lot of desertion. And even when the money gets into the hands of the troops, there's no mechanism for them to get it to their families; some men just "go home" for a few days to personally deliver it. While they do return, sooner or later, this is not good for unit combat capability. The better Iraqi officers frown on the practice, but understand it and usually let the guys off. The rotten officers apparently are willing to accept bribes, in return for not punishing the absent soldiers.
There are also disputes over what kind of officers will lead the new Iraqi army. For example, it's recently been pointed out that at a time when Iraq needs seasoned personnel commanding troops, some hundreds of veteran officers and NCOs have been pulled out of action to be sent to Ranger School and other military institutions in the U.S. This was one of those hard decisions. Sending these officers and NCOs to U.S. schools is a long term investment, as there is still a struggle going on, between those Iraqi military leaders who prefer to build an army on the American model, and those who believe that the older version (based on the Russian model) is more appropriate. The Russians stress unquestioning obedience and detailed orders from above. None of this "initiative" nonsense the Americans love so much. The Russian model also makes it easier for the generals to seize control of the government. That's been an Iraqi curse since the country was founded in the 1920s. Breaking away from the threat of military takeovers is seen worth the damage done by pulling some of the better leaders out of action for some training in the United States. These trainees also get to see America close up, and enjoy a break from the daily tensions of living in Iraq. Time will tell if this particular gambit pays off.