More on the Iraqi army

Iraqi Sergeants and the Fate of the Nation

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.


  1. I am going to disagree about the disbanding of the old Iraqi army. It would have been prudent to put them all or most into service where they could be watched, and would be trusted to actually do a good …er…not horrid job: Watching the Iranian Border. That said, the old Iraqi Army should have been allowed to slowly disolve by halting recruiting for it; and thus develop the New Iraqi Army. My 37 cents.

  2. Good points all, esp. regarding disbanding the old Iraqi ‘Army,’ if you could call it that. In lieu of sergeants, the old Iraqi ‘Army’ of conscripts maintained discipline by having IIS (the secret police/intel agency) in every platoon literally holding a gun to their heads. As Myers, Rumsfeld, Bremer, etc. have repeatedly stated, that ‘Army’ self-disbanded the minute it became clear the regime was no longer in charge. It’s not hard to see why. Only fear of the brutal security services was keeping them there.

  3. I think the parliamentary elections in December will be the real key. It’s going to create some separation between the ‘we must fight dmeocracy to the death’ Sunnnis and the ‘this insurgency sucks big-time, let’s try consensual gov’t instead’ Sunnis.

  4. Why wouldn’t the old Iraqi NCO corps not be able to change there ways to fit into our system? Wouldn’t they want to increas there pay and authority? Maybe the officer corps wouldn’t want that but they could be made to accept it. Wouldn’t it be worth it to retain the old army to reduce the number of men and material open to insurgent gruops?

  5. joe: It seems that the overwhelming majority of the old Iraqi NCO corps were thugs or worse who were not good soldiers and got their position by either tribal nepotism or skulduggery of one sort or another. The majority of their lifestyle was centered on corruption of one sort or another. They were not at all the sort of men anyone wants in a professional army. At least for the most part. We wouldn’t simply deputize LA street gangs to increase the size of the LAPD and cut down on the number of gang members. Most of the old Iraqi army was a huge tribal gang. Dropping the old army certainly creates short-term problems, but it’s not like they were all standing around in formation waiting for orders when we dismissed them. Most were already gone. That’s not to say that every person that served in the old army should be ineligible for the new. Not at all. But this is an army under new management, and everyone needs to start over.

  6. Yeah I see your point. Everything is tribal over there so it’s not based on merit at all. Seems like there was some sort of middle path that could have been taken. What that would be I couldn’t think of. As for them being there I am sure they would have shown up if they had been called in with the promise of a job with pay. But then how can you know who your getting. There just isn’t any black and white answer though.