Iraq: January 3, 2005

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The Iraqi National Guard, a temporary organization meant to quickly provide security guards, is being merged into the Iraqi army. The National Guard troops received little, if any, training, before being put to work. Veterans of Saddams army were recruited, while NCOs and officers from the old army provided leadership. This worked pretty well in Shia and Kurdish areas, but in Sunni Arab towns, not all of the recruits were loyal, and the guardsmen did a poor job defending themselves against determined attacks by al Qaeda or Baath Party gunmen. These failures made the news, but the many successes generally did not. Some National Guard units, because of a good crew of officers and NCOs (the key factor in any effective military unit), got their act together. American units began to "adopt" National Guard battalions and provide additional training and new equipment. 

Showing the Iraqi troops the battle drills the Americans used, did wonders for morale. Many Iraqis admire the military skill of the American troops. Most Iraqis had only seen this sort of thing in the movies. Action movies are very popular in the Middle East, and the American troops were like a movie come to life. Something of a guilty pleasure, So when Iraqi troops began taking part in raids and other operations, running through the same moves as the U.S. troops, Iraqi civilian morale got a bump upward. The civilians needed it, because not only were they getting attacked by al Qaeda and Sunni gunmen, but newly aggressive Iraqi National Guardsmen often come across as brutal and violent as well. But mainly these guys are scared. The al Qaeda and Baath terror campaign is mainly directed at the National Guard, because it represents the largest (over 40,000 troops) armed force available to the government.

The National Guard has had many successes. They have defeated many attacks on the infrastructure (power plants, oil pumping, government buildings) they defend. They have become more effective at raids. A National Guard battalion making a raid on a neighborhood, looking for al Qaeda or Baath gunmen, rarely fails. The Iraqi troops know how to set up security and  sweep an area. Over the weekend, one such raid yielded over 200 suspected and many weapons.

The National Guard has also been able to help the police to beef up the defenses of police buildings. No longer do the raids on police buildings succeed. The National Guard troops also know how to serve as a reaction force, acting as quick reinforcements for Iraqi police or troops who are under attack. 

Despite all the setbacks, men kept joining the National Guard. Part of it was the money, but given the degree of danger, there was more than money involved. Iraqis want security, and freedom from the murderous activities of al Qaeda and Saddam's old enforcers trying to put the Baath Party back in charge. Joining the National Guard was a way to do something. And largely unnoticed, the National Guard kept getting better. There are thousands of guardsmen with over a year of combat experience, and sufficient skill to stay alive through all that, and enough loyalty to still be at it. These are the core NCOs and officers for the new Iraqi army, and are largely responsible for the increasing success of the Iraqi troops. 

 

 

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