This topic was touched on a couple of weeks back here on MO. Strategy Page points out that the NCO corps of most Arab armies have long been neglected, and the Iraqi army was no exception.
However, now the Iraqis have seen, up close, how effective well trained and respected sergeants can be. So American efforts to convince Iraqi officers and troops to adopt the Western type of NCO is showing results. But it’s slow going. For generations, Iraqis have gotten by with sergeants who got no respect, or authority. And not much additional pay, either. As with the officers, the young troops are more willing, and able, to accept these new ideas than the older NCOs who served in Saddam’s army. Another advantage the Iraqis have is the willingness of Jordan to help train NCOs. Jordan, which enthusiastically adopted the British model of what an NCO should be, have the best NCO corps in the Middle East. So the senior Jordanian NCOs can talk directly to their Iraqi counterparts, and convince them that they can make the change (from officer’s lackey to the guy-in-charge.)
But building an effective NCO corps will take at least a decade. The young sergeants, especially the ones getting combat experience, are proving their worth right now. But it will take years for them to acquire the experience and wisdom to become platoon and company sergeants. The platoon sergeants will be particularly valuable, because a major weakness in the Iraqi army was having young lieutenants in charge of platoons, without the assistance of an older and more experienced platoon sergeant.
“At least a decade”. Seems to me that we ought to consider staying the course for more than another six months.
Incidentally, this underscores why I believed at the time and continue to believe today that we were right to disband the old Iraqi army and start over from square one. We didn’t want the old Iraqi army, regardless of whether it would have been loyal or not. We want a new Iraqi army that is professional and capable. Yes, this decision was a serious short-term trade-off with massive security implications. But we are in Iraq for the long haul.
I’d be curious to see what many of those faulting our military and government for not keeping the old Iraqi army intact would be saying today if we had, by the way. That move would have rightly been fair game for those who, rightly in many cases, criticize Americans for taking the short-term solution to long-term problems in the name of expedience.
The upcoming elections are going to be a huge exam for Iraqi military and police forces, I think. They’re going to be shouldering the majority of the security, and their performance will probably have a lot to do with the schedule for the draw-down of US forces in Iraq.
While the “smart move” for the insurgency and terrorists would probably be to lay low for the next year or so and let American forces begin withdrawing, they might find that a year of security in Iraq hurts them more than it helps. So they’re stuck fighting battles that they cannot win against forces growing in strength daily. They dare not fight openly because of their weakness, and they dare not wait to rebuild. They will not give in, to be sure, but what chance they ever had for a meaningful victory is quickly vanishing. Today the Americans are too strong, tomorrow the Iraqis will be too strong.
Rock. Hard place.
Iraq is a quagmire, I tell you.