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07-21-06, 04:29 PM #1
Oops, We Thought You Were American
Oops, We Thought You Were American
by James Dunnigan
July 20, 2006
By the end of June, over 90 percent of the combat operations in Iraq (raids, cordon & search, quick reaction force run, etc) involved Iraqi forces. About a third of these operations were entirely Iraqi. However, there is a team of about a dozen American advisors attached to each Iraqi battalion, so most "all-Iraqi" operations have at least a few American advisors along. While the advisors are there to give advice, they are also there to observe, and report back the progress, or lack thereof, the Iraqis are making. The army is making more progress than the paramilitary police units.
Iraq army has always had a better reputation than the police, and has always attracted higher caliber people. Although an army coup in 1958 was responsible for over four decades of dictatorship, that was more the fault of evil generals, than of the army as a whole. Lower ranking officers were always more interested in purely military matters. But at the top, as in most countries, the generals held their jobs more for political, than military, reasons. The same is still true, with a broad agreement required before anyone can take on the top twenty or so military commands. But in the lower ranks, the Coalition (mainly the U.S. and Britain) have made a major effort to get the moat qualified people put in charge. Part of the pitch was the appeal to Iraqi pride, by invoking the brave, capable and selfless officers who led the army in the war with Iran in the 1980s. Despite the fact that Iraqi started the war (by invading and trying to grab an oil rich province), and "won" by wearing the Iranians out (the war was basically a draw), the outcome was, historically, rare, because an Arab army was not crushed by their Iranian foe. Over the last five thousand years, the Iranians almost always won when they went to war with Arabs. So the United States appealed to that rare episode of Arab military achievement, to convince many capable Iraqis that, as the country was again faced with an armed threat, it was again time to get it together and take care of business. Most Iraqi troops admire their American counterparts. Iraqi army uniforms are similar to the U.S. ones. The Iraqi army has received several thousand hummers and other American military vehicles. The greatest complement G.I.s can pay Iraqi troops is to roll up, usually at night, and hail them in English, and then say, "Oops, we thought you were American."
The police combat battalions are another matter. Although the paramilitary police units receive a lot of the same training as the army troops, the police commanders tend to be more political. The "traditions" of the police are different as well. Police are a rather recent development in Iraq, and have not left a very good impression. Long considered corrupt and inefficient, the police were also one of the most visible agents of repression. The Coalition tried to build a new police force that was better than the old one. They succeeded, but the new model still had a lot of bad habits. Corruption was still there. Less than before, but that's not saying much. The new cops are also more lethal than the old ones. Not against criminals, or at least not the usual crooks. Some of the new cops moonlight as partisan death squads. Lots of bad blood in Iraq, because of all the Kurds and Shia Arabs killed by Sunni Arab secret police and such, over the last four decades. It was all too easy for Kurdish and Shia Arab cops to be convinced to go out and administer some off-the-books justice. The problem with death squads, is that many of them don't have an off-switch. If all this is allowed to continue, the cops will go from being part of the solution, to being part of the problem. Many of them have already made that dubious transition.
One lasting effect of the American military presence in Iraq, will be better combat skills. Iraqi soldiers and police are, after three years of expert training, much better at killing people. Army and police leaders are more efficient as well. What is still uncertain is whether, in the long term, these new and Improved Iraqi security forces will be better for Iraq, or just themselves.
“There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion.”
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