Where are they now?
Yesterday, I concluded by posting that there was one fundemental error which has lead, perhaps more than the other factors I have discussed, to the current insurgency in Iraq: the fact that early in the occupation, the US decided to disband the former Iraqi Army, and build a new army from scratch. To understand why this is a problem, we need remember that many in the army were loyal to Iraq, rather than to the ruler of the day (including Saddam Hussein). This has been the case for a very long time:
British Mandate of Iraq
The British decision at the Cairo Conference to establish an indigenous Iraqi army was significant. In Iraq, as in most of the developing world, the military establishment has been the best organized institution in an otherwise weak political system. Thus, while Iraq's body politic crumbled under immense political and economic pressure throughout the monarchic period, the military gained increasing power and influence; moreover, because the officers in the new army were by necessity Sunnis who had served under the Ottomans, while the lower ranks were predominantly filled by Shia tribal elements, Sunni dominance in the military was preserved.
The huge implications of the decision to disband the Iraqi Army were spelled out early in the war by analyst Steve Gilliard (who I talked about yesterday):
The Fatal Mistake
Sunday, September 21, 2003
Hubris leads to many things, but the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, 400,000 men strong, was the mistake which will, ultimately, undo our occupation and war.
Because it was the one national institution which existed apart from Saddam Hussein. He didn't trust it, and he didn't let it get too close to him. Their officers were bribable and they hated Saddam. Yet, they were tossed out of a job and had to threaten the CPA to get demobilzation cash.
The heart of any Army is not its generals, but its young sergeants, captains and colonels. They're the men who win battles and lead troops. Keeping them on your side is the difference between victory and defeat in war. If Viceroy Jerry and his crew had been smarter about this, they would have been able to provide security. It might not have prevented a civil war in the end, but, the security problem would have a very different cast.
Despite the defeat in the first Gulf War, the Iraqi Army was sound for what it was. It had good command and control, good training and decent elite units, both Special Forces and Republican Guard. There was a sound nucleus to build a new Army around. Instead, by casting the army to the winds, it created the backbone of an opposition.
How can you tell?
Because the tactics of the resistance are growing in proficiency. The guerrilla units are too large and well coordinated to be merely pissed-off jihadis. Attacks signaled by flares and coordinated remote mine attacks are not taught in training camps, but in military schools. Sure, some of the kids may be bribed, but there is enough military training among Iraqis to make a resistance possible. They have the ability to set ambushes and escape. Not just once, but repeatedly. And last week, in Ramadi, Iraqi resistance held off US Armor and infantry for three hours, forcing them to withdraw. That is not being done by bored Syrians.KIRKUSH MILITARY TRAINING BASE, Iraq, Sept. 15 Ã¢â‚¬â€� The mock attack begins with whistles, because the new Iraqi army needs to conserve its blanks.
Within a few minutes, under the watchful eye of private trainers paid by the United States, a platoon of recruits overruns the enemy position. Like the rest of their battalion, these young men are only weeks from becoming full-fledged soldiers.
When they are ready, their new army will have 735 men.
In Washington, politicians and military planners say the United States needs to rely much more heavily on Iraqi soldiers and police officers, both to restore order and to lighten the load on overworked American troops. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said that strengthening the Iraqi security services is a top priority. Pentagon planners have optimistically spoken about replacing American soldiers with Iraqi troops.
But on the ground here, the Iraqi cavalry appears a long way off.
There is this assumption that the Iraqi Army was tactically unsound. Retraining the Army seems not only to be a waste of time, but is hampered by the fact it is tainted as an army of collaboration. It exists because of the Americans and is designed to serve American, not Iraqi, needs. How can they expect the Iraqi people to rally around what is in essence, the New ARVN.The new army will be of little use against well-armed guerrillas, much less as a deterrent to the established armies of Iran and Turkey, Iraq's neighbors to the east and north, said Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy institute. That is likely to remain the case for the next several years, he said.
"One of the great problems here is that they are creating an Iraqi army that is seen by most Iraqis as not an Iraqi army, but as a paramilitary force that looks more like a tool of the occupation than a national defense force," Mr. Cordesman said.
That opinion is widely shared on the streets of Iraq. In Kufa, a religious center 100 miles south of Baghdad, a half dozen men agreed in interviews that America had acted deliberately to leave Iraq's army weak. "It's not the right thing to do," said one of the men, Hussan Muhammad.
You have to wonder why the new Iraqi Army will be a fraction of the size of the old Iraqi Army and will be for years. Also, what self respecting Iraqi would serve in such a force.
General Eaton said the occupying forces were reconstructing the Iraqi army as quickly as possible. The soldiers of that army, many of them conscripts who had been ill treated, fled after the fall of Mr. Hussein's government. Its barracks were looted to their walls, its tanks blown apart or stripped to their tracks, its weapons stolen.
The old Iraqi bases "do not tolerate human life right now," General Eaton said. "The buildings are carcasses."
The occupying forces plan to rebuild the bases while they train a select group of former Iraqis officers in how to lead a volunteer force in a democratic nation, he said. Then, next spring, it will recruit former soldiers, telling them that "the barracks are ready" and "your leaders have been retrained."
If all goes as planned, the 13,500 recruits will form the two new divisions to complement the 6,700 from Kirkush.
This army can only serve one purpose, to repress other Iraqis. It is too small and weak to do anything else. Most Iraqis, not stupid, have figured this out.
Once the Army was dissolved, a key tool of national unity was loss and the resistance gained many new members. A resistance which grows more efficient by the day.
The decision to disband the Iraqi Army has even been described as a mistake by Ghazi al-Yawar (the former interim president):
Iraqi interim president: Insurgents will be gone in a year
Al-Yawar said he believes the United States was wrong when it eliminated the Iraqi army.
"In hindsight, it was a mistake to disband the Iraqi military," he said.
He said he foresees U.S. forces remaining in Iraq until enough Iraqi forces have been recruited and trained to replace them.
In other words, there was a mutual distrust and dislike between Hussein and his Army. Hussein was protected by a separate Republican Guard was precisely for this reason. It would be reasonable to suspect that most in this Army - particularly the lower-ranked Shi'ites - were not Baathists. The question to ask is what has happend to these 400,000 armed and trained soldiers? A reasonable answer would be to suggest that many went on to join - to form the backbone of - the Insurgency. If this is the case, then disbanding the old Iraqi Army may have been the most critical mistake made by the US in its invasion in Iraq.