December 2, 2005:
As the Iraqi military and police are rebuilt, they have found their greatest success in forming specialized units. The troops are paid more, and recruiters are very selective. One of the most elite of these units (commandoes, SWAT and the like) is the Emergency Response Unit (ERU). Used for hostage rescue, EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) and any high-risk missions, the ERU gives the government some troops for missions that previously had to be left to the Americans.
A year ago, this outfit had only about a hundred members. Now, there are over 300 in service, and at least that many going through the four month training program. U.S. Army Special Forces are involved in the training, which is a big plus. Most of the Special Forces troops speak Arabic, making the training much more effective. There aren't many of these Arab speaking Americans available, so they rarely act as trainers. More often, they help set up training programs and supervise.
The training is pretty intense, and despite the careful screening of applicants, about 15 percent of the trainees are washed out or quit. Once a member of the ERU, there are hardly any absences or desertions. But there will ultimately only be 750 men in the ERU. While the government would like to have an army of these elite troops, there are just not many men in Iraq who can meet the qualifications and handle the training. Another, unspoken, reason is the fear of having too many commando grade troops around, who would be capable of staging a coup. This is a little out there right now, but in the Middle East, overthrowing governments with elite troops happens more often than fair elections.