Leadership: Iraqi Military Disunity


November 8,2008: American military advisors are dismayed at how many units of the Iraqi military are loyal to one political faction or another, and not the country they have sworn to defend. As bad as that is, it's just a sign that the new Iraqi armed forces are suffering from many past problems. The big one is that the Iraqi military was never "the army of the nation." That is, the many factions in the country were represented as separate military units. For example, even before Saddam came to power in the 1970s, it was recognized that different political, ethnic and religious factions "owned" units in the armed forces. Even the air force, which contained the most educated and "modern" personnel, was not immune from this. Each squadron was staffed with men of similar political beliefs. That way, the leader of the government had no doubts about how loyal, or not, each unit would be in a political crises.

When Saddam came along, he continued past practices, but with some changes. Saddam created a new army (the Republican Guard) within the army. The Republican Guard was staffed with troops who were mainly loyal to Saddam. That was nothing new, but Saddam came up with some new ideas to expand the pool of people he could depend on. Basically, he bribed or terrorized men from the Sunni Arab minority to be loyal to him, not just to the Sunni Arabs. This was always a work in progress, as there were many factions among the Sunni Arabs, and Saddam was constantly killing, exiling or jailing Sunni Arab henchmen who changed their minds.

The new Iraqi army is mainly Shia Arab, and there are a lot of Shia factions (based on religious attitudes, political ideas, tribe or a charismatic leaders). The government tries to keep control over this mélange by constantly shifting around the senior leaders. What most Iraqis fear is another military takeover, an event that is all too common in the region. A lot of Iraqis see this as an inevitability, and American military and political advisors are trying to come up with a fix. So far, there isn't one.


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