And yet more on the new Iraqi army

Building the Iraqi Army the Hard Way

I point this out in part because it supports everything I’ve been saying about the new Iraqi army for quite some time (most recently here). The whole thing is worth a read, and it finishes with this:

The hardest job is getting Iraqis who can, and will, serve as effective NCOs and officers. In Saddam’s army, being an officer or NCO was seen as a form of patronage, not a responsibility. It’s hard to change that attitude, as it has been alive in Iraq for generations. Again, the Iraqis are reminded that if they want to be super-troopers like the Americans, someone has to take on the responsibilities of effective NCOs and officers. After two years of looking, several thousand capable candidates have been found. But the training takes time, and the American training teams spend a lot of time showing the officers and NCOs the many little things that go into making a capable combat leader.

All this has been a difficult story to report, leaving Americans with a vague idea of what is happening with the Iraqi armed forces. Most journalists have no idea about what the old Iraqi army was like, and what kind of changes have to be made to create a new one.

There’s no doubt that keeping the old Iraqi army would have had some significant short-term advantages. But the most effective Iraqi soldiers were the Republican Guards, and they were virtually all Sunni since shortly after the 1991 war to ensure loyalty. Iraq is about 80% Shiite and will certainly have Shiite majorities in the national government based upon that numerical fact.

Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the old Iraqi army could be turned into an effective new Iraqi army, an assumption that would be a requirement for retaining their services anyway. What happens when Shiite national leaders start doing things Sunnis don’t like?

Just because something is very difficult and takes a very long time to finish doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing and worth doing right.


  1. The number of Iraqi units capable of independant action has been reduced from 3 to 1. the security situation keeps getting worse. terrorist recruiting is up. worldwide terrorist attacks are up. us troops now spend less and less time on offensive action and more and more time on unit security. Electricity is down, oil production is down. ‘Just because something is very difficult and takes a very long time to finish doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing and worth doing right.’ What if we cant do it right, and in fact it cant be done? How do we know? How do we know