Peacekeeping: The Americanization Of Iraq


October 23,2008:  Many Iraqis have become infatuated with the American military. Not just the efficiency with which they fight, but also how they go out of their way to avoid civilian casualties, and try to help Iraqis recover from decades of tyranny and terrorism. This doesn't get a lot of publicity, but it is changing Iraq on a fundamental level.

The new Iraqi Army wants to be just like their American counterparts. Iraqi military uniforms look very much like the U.S. ones. The weapons and vehicles are the same. And the Iraqis are emulating how U.S. troops move, as well as how they look. In combined operations, it's often difficult to tell, at a glance, who are the Americans, and who are the Iraqis. More than once, during a firefight, an American soldier dives for cover next to what he thinks is another G.I. But when he talks to the other "American", he comes face-to-face with an Iraqi face talking back to him in Arabic. Fortunately, both armies use the same hand signals (a form of sign language used during combat, when voice commands cannot be heard, or when you want to maintain silence.) So the two will communicate with hand signs and get on with the battle.

Iraqis also noticed that the U.S. concept of "Civil Affairs" (soldiers trained to work with civilians in a war zone) worked. So now Iraq has its own civil affairs troops, who usually operate with their American counterparts. This has worked very well, especially in Sunni and Shia radical neighborhoods where anti-Americanism is still alive and well. Iraq is still divided by religious and political differences, and the Iraqi civil affairs specialists see themselves as having lots to do for a long time.

More importantly, many Iraqis are trying to emulate U.S. military bureaucracy. While these administrators get little respect from the combat troops, they are seen by Iraqis as paragons of modernity and efficiency. That they are, which is one reason the U.S. combat troops are so effective. The right supplies tend to get to the right place at the right time. In Iraq, that rarely happens, not in the civilian world, or the military. Iraqi commanders have noticed how the American military support organizations operate, and want to set up Iraqi equivalents. That's a difficult chore, mainly because of the corruption that is endemic to the region. But at least there's a trend, an effort to not just look like Western troops, but to administer the military organizations in the same way.





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