December 23, 2005:
The December 15th elections in Iraq also served as a final exam for the newly formed Iraqi 8th Infantry Division. The unit have been training most of this year, trying to acquire the planning and staff skills that would enable it to operate independently, and take over control of a chunk of Iraqi real estate. The troops have been trained to handle cordon-and-search, checkpoint, patrol and convoy protection operations. There was also tactical training, weapons proficiency and, for specialized units, improving engineering, communication, medical support and logistics skills.
The divisions two brigades, and six infantry battalions, had already passed their final tests. Getting the troops and lower ranking officers up to speed has been easier than preparing staff officers and senior commanders. The problem is that the new Iraqi army had to start from scratch here. The Saddam era Iraqi army was full of Sunni Arab officers who were selected with loyalty to Saddam in mind. Few of those officers could be trusted to serve in the new army. So staff and command officers had to be trained. This training has been going on for over year, at special schools in Iraq, as well as in foreign countries (Jordan, the United States and Europe).
The senior and staff officers of the 8th Infantry Division were successful in deploying and controlling their troops for the election security operation, which included all the things they had been trained to handle. The division will now be given an area to control, only calling on American troops for special tasks (air support, logistics and intelligence.) Although the Iraqi 8th Infantry Division is now out on its own, the training is not yet complete. The division needs supply, maintenance and supply units as well. Eventually, the division will also get artillery and even some aircraft.
Now the division has to pass the test of time. Over the next weeks and months, the Iraqi 8th Infantry Division will be subjected to the day-to-day stress of counter-terror and combat operations. Unlike American military units, the Iraqis will be subject to pressure from terrorists attacking their families, trying to force officers to either quit the military, or work for the terrorists. In this respect, the Iraqis have a more difficult war to deal with than the foreign troops. Not all the Iraqi troops will be able to handle it, and it will take time to see if enough of the Iraqi troops can keep doing the job well enough to defeat the anti-government forces.