Iraq: July 22, 2005


On July 15th, Iraq and the United States established a joint operations center to coordinate counter-insurgency missions. This new headquarters is partly a training operation, to give Iraqi officers and NCOs experience in running an American style headquarters operations. But the center also provides a practical way to coordinate operations between the U.S. 256th Infantry Brigade, and the Iraqi 1st Infantry Brigade. This joint operation is being used to work out how to best have American and Iraqi staffs analyze and share information. Previous generations of Iraqi staff officers received their training from Russia, which used a slower and more deliberate type of planning. The American style is much faster and dependent on subordinate commanders making their own decisions, and rapidly passing back intelligence information. The Russian style pleased dictators, especially Arab dictators, because it left subordinates with little decision-making power, and concentrated control of information and decision making at the top. 

Iraqis being trained as officers for their new army and police force are in awe of the American military. The speed and efficiency of American combat troops, especially compared to how Iraqis operate, has made a big impression. American efforts to teach Iraqis how to operate this way are eagerly accepted. The Iraqis know that if they can master the American techniques, they will turn the Iraqi armed forces into the most formidable in the Middle East. This has made Israel nervous, because a similar successful British training effort in Jordan, over half a century ago, turned the much smaller Jordanian armed forces into the most formidable, man-for-man, Arab army in the region. This caused Israel serious problems in the 1967 war, and played a role in Israeli efforts to make peace with Jordan. Applying this training treatment to the much larger, wealthier, and anti-Israeli Iraq, could mean serious problems for Israel down the line. 

Because the Sunni Arabs dominated the military for generations, and the Sunni Arab community continues to fight the new government, the new Iraqi army and police force has required new officers and NCOs to be developed from scratch. This is why it has taken so long to get the Iraqi military up to speed. You cant create competent officers and NCOs overnight. While there were some Kurdish and Shia Arab officers, and many NCOs, in Saddams armed forces, the senior, and key,  positions were almost exclusively Sunni Arab. Moreover, Saddam did not encourage initiative and professional competence, for his officers. Saddam wanted obedience and loyalty. So a lot of the old officers, even if they prove loyal to the new government, have to be retrained, and taught to think for themselves when in action. This does not always work. 

The selection and training of officers is important for political reasons as well. Throughout the Middle East, the military is seen as a way to take over, or control, a country. The Iraqi army has been the sources of many coups and military governments in the past. American training efforts are trying to develop an Iraqi officer corps that will be competent, and loyal to the idea of civilian control of the military. So far, it seems pretty certain that Iraqi officers can be brought up to U.S. standards for military operations. Time will tell if this new generation of officers are willing, and able, to stay out of politics. 

One thing is certain, the next generation of Iraqi military and police commanders will be dominated by Shia Arab and Kurdish officers. This has not been the case for some five centuries, and no one is sure exactly how it will work out. The current Sunni Arab terror campaign will eventually be defeated, and it is being done with the help of some Sunni Arab officers. These men worked for Saddam, but were considered clean enough to rejoin the army and police force. They command several of the few army and police units that can go up against the terrorists and win. But the majority of the army and police commanders are now Shia Arab and Kurdish. Most are green, and still learning. But because they are backed by the majority of the population, these Shia Arab and Kurd officers have the best promotion prospects, and will be the generals for some time to come. 

Training new officers has been far more difficult that training the troops. Many of the officer candidates have been sent to Jordan for training. Jordanian officers are among the most competent and effective in the Arab world, and provide good examples for the Iraqis. The junior officers coming out of these training courses are competent and eager, but they are having problems for the mid and upper level officers, who came up in the old Iraqi army and police force. These guys have also received a lot of training, but many were unwilling, or unable, to change their attitudes and methods. 

Another big problem has been selecting men to be officers in the first place. Traditionally, being an officer was considered another form of political patronage. The loyalty and political connections of the officer were more important than the fellows ability to do the job. That habit has been hard to change. Over the last two years, much has been learned about how to find the right officer candidates in an Arab culture.

Then theres the problem of getting these new Iraqi units into combat without breaking them. These units are often going into combat with most of their officers and NCOs untried and inexperienced. This is something the United States has not had to face since World War II. Its been a learning experience for everyone. 

Right now, only about a third of the army and police units can be relied on to perform well in combat.  Thats out of a force of some 170,000 soldiers and police. But only three of the 107 army and police battalions have reached the level where they can plan and carry out combat operations against terrorists on their own. There are currently 1,500 American officers and NCOs assigned to these battalions as advisors and trainers, making it easier to constantly manage progress in Iraqi training and capability. The Iraqi forces will rise to 270,000 by next year, and the proportion of effective troops will increase to about half the force, with several dozen battalions that can take on terrorists without assistance from American staffs and support units. . 

The United States has decades of experience in training Arab troops, and has always been frustrated by not being able to control the selection of officers, and all of their training. Now, in Iraq, the U.S. trainers have complete control. The task proved harder than expected, because of the cultural and historical difficulties. The job is not yet finished, and wont be for several more years. The full story of this training effort will provide some telling accounts of how cultures clashed under fire, and the pressure to win a civil war while also training the troops to fight it. 


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