Iraq: January 5, 2005

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Since November 10th, anti-government forces made twelve attacks on police stations, and were defeated every time. Earlier in November, nine police stations were overrun and no attacked were defeated. Most of this action has taken place in Mosul, where many of the al Qaeda and Baath Party gunmen fled to before the attack on Fallujah. Mosul does not appear to be in any danger of falling under anti-government control. However, anti-government forces are better trained (many were veterans of Saddams security forces) and motivated (because they fear retribution from Kurdish and Shia Arab kin of their victims while they worked for Saddam). Those who belong to al Qaeda also have religious fanaticism to propel them. Ongoing reforms in the Iraqi police and military finally got to the point where the police and army troops could organize effective defenses against these police station raids. 

The Iraqi security forces, which will eventually have 180,000 police and border guards, have 116,000 on duty now. But only 73,000 have gone through all their training and been fully equipped for duty. The best ones are the Kurds, who were free of Saddam and his murderous security forces for a decade before the 2003 invasion. The Shia Arabs are less resolute, having been subject to particularly vicious repression between 1991 and 2003. But in majority Shia Arab areas, the Shia Arab police are able to deal with the anti-government forces. The police are aided by tribal militias (every household in Iraq is, by law, allowed one AK-47) and an alert population. The growing availability of cell phones has also made it harder for the terrorists to move freely among a hostile population. One phone call can bring dozens of men with assault rifles. So the terrorists concentrate on Sunni Arab areas, where they have many sympathizers. The chief government intelligence officer estimates that about eight percent of the Sunni Arab population is actively aiding the terrorists. But the terrorists have to be careful that they dont kill a lot of Sunni Arabs while making attacks on Sunni Arab police and soldiers. This has not been easy, and as more Sunni Arab bystanders are killed in these attacks, more Sunni Arabs become hostile to the terrorists, and willing to make those cell phone calls. 

The major problem with Iraqi police and soldiers is lack of professional leadership. For centuries, the Turks enlisted Sunni Arabs to be police and soldiers, and provided professional training. But the Turks always regarded the Sunni Arabs (who were most likely to join the Turkish army, because the Turks were also Sunnis) as second rate soldiers. The British tried to maintain the Turkish military tradition, but the rot soon set in. The Shia Arabs and Kurds were, as during Turkish rule, kept out of leadership positions, and not allowed to form the bulk of too many units. The Sunni Arabs, like their long time Turkish masters, never trusted the Shia Arabs (because the hated Iranians were Shia), or the Kurds (who were ethnically similar to the Iranians, had occupied eastern Turkey for thousands of years, and never accepted domination by any number of conquerors). The Sunni Arabs were content to use terror, or bribes, to keep their fellow Iraqis under control. Military professionalism never caught on, and the Iraqis have long been considered the most incompetent soldiers in the Middle East. 

The current training effort is an attempt to break this long tradition of military incompetence. There are about 50,000 army and National Guard troops in service, with another 50,000 in training or being organized. Currently, there are some 400 American advisors assigned to the Iraqi army. These troops are organized into ten man teams, with one team assigned to each of the 27 Iraqi army battalions (18 in service, nine still in training), nine brigade and three division headquarters. The Department of Defense is organizing 65 additional teams for 65 Iraqi National Guard battalions (which have been hastily organized, with poor training and leadership.) Only 45 of these National Guard battalions exist, with twenty more to be organized. The American adviser teams, despite the language barrier (most of the advisers dont speak Arabic), are there mainly to identify those Iraqi troops with leadership skills, and see that these men get promoted and trained. This leadership is crucial to the success of Iraqi troops. U.S. Army Special Forces play a large role in the basic and advanced training for the troops, but the advisory teams stay with the units full time, train with them, go into combat with them and, at times, die with them. 

As the old saying goes, there are no bad troops, only bad officers. While the poorly led army, police and National Guard units get most of the publicity, about a third of these units have gotten competent and reliable officers and NCOs in charge, and are performing well. An examination of the successful, and unsuccessful units, shows a pattern that comes right back to the quality of the leadership. Any military historian would recognize this, its always been the most common reason for success, and failure, in combat. Finding competent Iraqis who are willing to risk their lives leading military or police units, is another problem. Military and police work never had a lot of status, especially police (who were seen as corrupt and inept). Saddam got around this by creating super military and police units to get away from this ancient stigma. These he had over a dozen secret police and intelligence organizations, and military outfits like the Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard, commandoes, and Special Forces. The current effort is appealing to Iraqi patriotism, and the need for patriotic Iraqis to step forward and serve their country to establish a democracy, and get away from dictators. This does not work with a lot of Iraqis, who put family, clan and tribe loyalty much higher than allegiance to "Iraq". This has always been the problem with Iraq. There have never been enough competent Iraqis willing to do whats best for Iraq. 


 

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