The new Iraqi army

FOSTERING COMPETENCE AND PROFESSIONALISM

Expat Yank:

It’s of course not quite the same as the summer of 1944, when the French 2nd Armored Division was equipped with American Sherman tanks and uniforms different from those of the French army of 1940. Those soldiers found as they recaptured French towns that townspeople sometimes thought on first glance that they were encountering Americans — and when they discovered their error were stunned and heartened to find that in the four years since the defeat the French army that was returning was a far different (and better) creature than that of 1940. Equipment aside, the French (and Spanish and others) who made up the unit that entered Paris were often veteran soldiers.

So we don’t know yet if it will work, but such photos show that the international coalition is not trying merely to throw guns into any old hands, but rather similarly aims to create a disciplined, independent, well-trained Iraqi national army capable of defending a democratic government. It’s a huge, complicated undertaking. For aside from the military of the state of Israel, no such professional force exists anywhere else in the entire Middle East.

I have long argued that we needed to build a professional army in Iraq, and that it was going to take time. We’re finally reaching the point where large numbers of Iraqi troops are fully trained, and many of them are slowly acquiring experience. Until this new military force is able to stand on its own and win its own battles, everything in Iraq is balanced on a high-wire with the Coalition forces providing the safety net.

Here’s another headline that tells us a lot about the new Iraq army: Corps Team Builds Iraqi Ammo Supply Point. It’s a story about a new small arms ammunition depot being completed in the port city of Um Qasar. Doesn’t seem very exciting, does it?

Well, think back a few weeks to all the talk about how many Iraqi units were not capable of independent operations. What was preventing many of the top Iraqi units from making the grade? Logistics. It wasn’t that the Iraqi troops weren’t capable of fighting. It wasn’t that they weren’t able to conduct operations without American troops lending a hand. It was that they don’t have the infrastructure to do everything on their own without help from American logistics and other supporting resources.

Anyone who knows how armies work realize that logistics is absolutely vital. And the Iraqi military is improving in this area all the time:

Many Iraqi units have been in the fight for months, in some cases taking the lead against stiff opposition while US troops are held in reserve. Though there’s no doubt a long ways to go, it really seems that things are basically on track as far as getting the Iraqi combat troops to point where they can fight the good fight without babysitting.

The second component, logistics and support, has many parts. First of all, of course, is simply the capability to get that fuel, ammo, and water to the troops. But it also includes maintenance, intelligence, and even things like air support. This is the area where Iraqi forces are lagging. They’ve got troops to fight, but they cannot stay in the field without US logistics and air support. This is the biggest hurdle that the new Iraqi army needs to overcome, and is the biggest reason that so many Iraqi units are not rated “capable of independent operations”.

By next summer we will see five to seven Iraqi Motorized Transport Regiments in operation. They will be bringing the Iraqi troops fuel, ammunition, water, food, and other supplies as they fight to maintain control of their nation. They will get these supplies from installations like the ammunition depot in Um Qasar. And this is a Very Good Thing:

US forces will be involved in ever-lessening support and basic security operations. This will free up some units to come home and others to go on the offensive. Depending on how effective the current campaign of operations near the Syrian border are, next spring may see the first real security in Iraq for several years.

As has been repeated repeatedly, Iraq needs to become responsible for its own security.

I’m generally less optimistic about the level of security in Iraq than most bloggers on my side of the aisle, but I think that things are going to look far, far different in six to eight months. As the Iraqi forces continue to evolve and improve, they will should a larger and larger part of the burden. Heroes will be made and units scoring big victories will become talked-about. In short, “tradition” will be reborn, and it will be a good tradition that Iraqis can be proud of.

So while there remains a long, long way to go, I think it’s clear that the new Iraqi army is on the right path and that they are improving a lot more quickly than they’re getting credit for. Let’s hope that’s the case and that they can maintain the momentum.

UPDATE: This, however, seems to be a bit over-optimistic:

Talabani said he planned to discuss reductions in U.S. forces during a private meeting with President Bush today, and said he believed the United States could begin pulling out some troops immediately.

“We think that America has the full right to move some forces from Iraq to their country because I think we can replace them [with] our forces,” Talabani said. “In my opinion, at least from 40,000 to 50,000 American troops can be [withdrawn] by the end of this year.”

That assessment differs dramatically from those offered by Bush and by U.S. military commanders in Iraq.

As I’ve written previously, there are no doubt plans in place to begin a qucker draw-down, but they’re only one of many possible contingencies. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t decrease anything until after successful elections in December. Even if Iraq troops provide the bulk of election security as has been indicated, let’s have our guys in a position to do something if they need to.

Then, if the elections go off well, we can begin to accelerate withdrawals if the situation warrants. Despite these public claims by Talibani, there’s no doubt that our leadership is going to do exactly that: let the situation on the ground determine our actions, not someone’s artificial timetable.

But, if anything, this statement underscores the growing feeling that Iraqi forces are coming along just fine.

Expect many who said only yesterday that Iraq’s military was worthless and a joke to say tomorrow that since the Iraqi military is so strong we had better pull out immediately.

Capatains Quarters has more.

Comments

  1. MO, You might be interested in Ken Pollack’s ‘Arabs at War’. He discusses, case by case, what Arab states have historically done well in battle, and what they fail at. Your local libe has it, or any given B&N. GL

  2. The traditional problem of 3rd world armies in general and especially Arab forces, is terrible leadership. NCO leadership is usually non-existent and the officers are thoroughly corrupt. Whenever I hear ‘professional army,’ I think ‘good NCOs’. I hope our guys over there are able instill the values that make good NCO’s and Officers in the Iraqi Army units they are training.

  3. Bram: I think you’re probably right about the NCOs being the bedrock of we would consider a ‘professional army’. That gets overlooked a lot by the ignoramouses that usually write about the military, and even by marginally-intelligent armchair analysts like me. I think that’s a big reason why the decision to rebuild from the ground up was the right one. It would have been quicker and easier to retain the majority of the old Iraqi army, and I realize that many from it have been re-introduced at various levels and been a great help. But by and large we didn’t want the old army with better weapons. We wanted a new army, with hopefully a lot less corruption and more professionalism at all levels. We wouldn’t have been able to get that by retaining what was there in the spring of 2003. (Yes, I know there were trade-offs to this approach, as well.)

  4. Ralph Peters had an article out a bouple years ago (At least I think it was Peters) about Arab armies. He pointed out that a sergeant in the US Army has more effective authority than colonels in most Arab armies. The reason being that for the most part, in a authoritarian regime, control always must flow from the top to maintain the extant power structure. Only those very high in authority are able to make decisions. Punishment for initiative is the norm. Better to wait for the high sign from the remfs than make a decision, even if one needs to be made *now*.