Logistics: Iraq And The Curse


February 14, 2009: Although Iraq has over 400,000 security personnel (army, police and security guards) on duty, it still has major problems keeping them supplied. This is becoming more obvious as U.S. units leave, and take with them the logistics help they provided to Iraqi troops they worked with. This is not a new problem for Iraq, or Middle Eastern armies in general. Creating an efficient logistics and administrative system for the Iraqi armed forces is proving to be the most difficult task the coalition has had to face while creating new armed forces for Iraq. The U.S. has been working on this for over three years, and corruption and bad habits make it difficult to keep the Iraqi troops supplied with essential items. There seems to be a curse at work here, preventing the Iraqis from getting their logistics act together.

Military logistics has been deficient in Iraq, and the entire region, for some very practical reasons. First of all, it's expensive. Even with all that oil money, no one wants to spend a lot of cash on providing logistics capabilities needed for troops in combat that might never come. Historically, nations in the region saw their armed forces as more of an internal security force. If invaded, the army could just grab whatever they needed from the civilian economy. Another important angle was preventing the troops from joining a rebellion. Only a few units had access to lots of ammo and fuel, and these were the most loyal troops, who were thus in a better position to defend the government from rebellious soldiers.

The two times Saddam used the military to invade neighbors, these logistical deficiencies were very obvious. In 1980, when he invaded Iran, his troops were only supplied sufficiently, and just barely, to take the oil rich areas just across the border. Iraqi troops failed in this, partly because of logistical shortcomings. The 1990 invasion of Kuwait was successful, but witnesses noted that the invading Iraqi troops promptly began living off the Kuwaitis, because there was no logistical support from Iraq. When the coalition attacked into Kuwait in 1991, they found the defending Iraqi troops poorly supplied and demoralized because of it.

While there are plenty of Iraqis with military experience, there are few of them with any knowledge, or experience, in military logistics. Coalition trainers had to start from scratch to build a modern logistical system for the Iraqi security forces. In the meantime, coalition logistical organizations are keeping the Iraqis supplied, as best they can. Even with the coalition help, there are few capable logistical troops with the operational units, to receive, store and disperse the supplies.

And then there's corruption. Another reason for Middle Eastern nations to avoid investing in logistics, a service which includes stockpiling supplies for military operations, is the likelihood that the stockpiles will be plundered. This stuff is all-too-easily stolen, and there are surviving records explaining how this was done in the Middle East thousands of years ago. Rulers in this part of the world have learned their lesson, and have another reason to avoid investing in logistics.

But Iraq is still at war with Saddam's supporters, and Islamic terrorists. Those security personnel need food, fuel, ammo, medical supplies, batteries and much more, if they are to stay in action. The government is only slowly dealing with the corruption problem (and it is still very much a problem), with too many commanders seeing a stock of supplies as an opportunity for personal enrichment.

Related to the logistics, is administrative and medical support. Getting the troops paid on time, and accurately, is still a problem. The lack of a nationwide banking system long meant many troops got up to a week off a month, so they can take their pay back to their families. The corruption problem (which even Saddam had to struggle with) means making sure commanders don't steal all or part of their troops pay, or create phantom soldiers and grab more money. U.S. troops have gotten into the habit of asking troops, after payday, if they go paid. If not, the problem was kicked up the chain-of-command, in the hope that, at some level, Iraqi officials would kick some ass and get the problem fixed. Getting the problem solved is a rather more long term issue.

U.S. and NATO military schools are accepting more Iraqi officers for logistics courses. The early graduates found themselves speaking a foreign language when they tried to implement what they had learned. That becomes less of a problem year by year, but it will be another 5-10 years before the entire Iraqi officers corps accepts logistics as an essential military skill. Meanwhile, schools inside Iraq are turning out thousands of NCOs and troops with logistics skills. It's not enough to have officers educated, then need supply sergeants and warehouse clerks who can make logistics happen on a daily basis.




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