Leadership: Generations at War in the Iraqi Army

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January 26, 2006: There is some disagreement among American military and civilian experts as to the model to follow in developing the new Iraqi army. As a result, there does not seem to be one comprehensive plan as to what the army should look like.

While official policy seems to be that it should resemble the US or other "Western" military institutions, with clearly defined Officer and NCO Corps, training programs do not always reflect this. Apparently, some training is being done according to Western standards, and some to old-style Iraqi standards. Nor is the situation made simpler by the fact that several different agencies are running various aspects of the training (e.g., some staff officers are attending courses in NATO countries, while others are being schooled in friendly Moslem nations, etc.)

Worse, some specialists in Arab culture and Arab military institutions believe that a modified Soviet model might be the best plan for building the new army. They offer a number of reasons for this. For one thing, the Soviet model - officers as the experts and everyone else as the workers - is not only more familiar to most Iraqis, and particularly Iraqis with military experience, but it is also better suited to Iraqi culture, which lacks a substantial educated working class (from which to recruit Western-style NCOs) and is very hierarchic.

Reportedly, there are tensions between younger Iraqi troops and older Iraqi officers, because they've each been trained to different standards. Many younger Iraqis have seen the U.S. military in action up close, and they note the initiative of the junior troops, and the skill and authority exercised by junior NCOs. A few of these younger Iraqis have kin in the United States who have served in the U.S. military, and the stories from these Iraqi-American former soldiers gets around. The few American troops who speak Arabic have also been the source of compelling evidence, for young Iraqi men, that Arabs can be as deadly and disciplined as the Americans. Older Iraqis tend to be more traditional, and are not too receptive to young Iraqi troops trying to "act like Americans."

Some US experts believe that these tensions may result in a serious internal problems when American troops leave the country, and likely end in a coup. Indeed, one of the major arguments against building the Iraqi armed forces as it was (a "Soviet" type force), was that this kind of army is easier to use in a coup. An army of NCOs and officers taught to think for themselves, is one that is less likely to go along with a military takeover.

At the moment, it's a generational struggle, with the younger officers and NCOs pulling for a Western style organization, while their elders just want a return to what they have known for so long. Because so many of the senior officers are tainted by service in Saddam's forces, American advisors are pushing for rapid promotions of younger Iraqi officers and NCOs. There is resistance to this, but the younger Iraqis are getting promoted, and the military culture in Iraq is changing. It's unclear if it will change enough, soon enough.

 


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