June 30, 2006:
The Iraqi army, rebuilt since 2003, still doesn't get any respect. But the force is much larger, and effective, than it was just six months ago. Currently, there are three divisions, 18 brigades and 69 battalions fit for service and out there every day fighting the Saddam diehards and al Qaeda fanatics. Six months ago, there was only one division, four brigades and 23 battalions out there. All of this is the result of several years of training, and a lot of trial and error.
For the last 90 years, Iraqi troops have had a very shabby reputation. Up until 1918, after four centuries of Turkish occupation, what is now known of as Iraq, was the source of some very effective officers and troops. But once the Turks departed, so did the traditions of military competence. Corruption and cutting corners replaced discipline and dedication. Turning all that around has not been easy.
The Iraqis now have over a hundred army and police battalions in action. The main problem remains the quality of officers and NCOs. Too many of them can be bribed, or engage in criminal behavior, or have divided loyalties. While every nation has lots of liars, Iraq has far too many, and convincing ones at that. Most Iraqis pay lip service to the concept of everyone uniting to work for the common good, and too many still succumb to just looking out for themselves. Coalition trainers try to select officers and NCOs who appear most likely to be honest and reliable. Many senior Iraqi commanders try as well. But there are still a lot of rotten apples at the top. Under Saddam, and for several generations before him, being an army officer was seen as a license to steal, not exercise battlefield competence. Old habits die hard.