Morale: Survivor: Iraq

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September 5, 2006: Several companies of Iraqi troops in the south recently refused orders to move to Sunni Arab areas in central Iraq. It's all a matter of poor leadership. And then there's morale, which is a fragile thing in the Iraqi army. In the four decades before 2003, the Iraqi army was run by fear and graft. There's still some graft around, but the new Iraqi army uses more modern training and leadership concepts to motivate the troops, and deal with morale problems.
It's all very much a work in progress. Because the old Iraqi army selected officers mainly for their loyalty to Saddam, and Sunni Arab domination, the new Iraqi army needed to create a new officer corps pretty much from scratch. A few thousand of the old army officers were found loyal enough to the new democracy, and sufficiently trustworthy, to serve. But that covered less than a third of the need. The rest had to be selected and trained. NCOs from the old army, especially if they were Kurds or Shia Arabs, were often selected to be officers, but a lot of young guys were basically given a few months training, and then put to work. Thousand quit, or turned out to be corrupt, or just incompetent. Many of those who stayed, were just going through the motions.
The companies of Shia Arab troops who refused to move to their new assignments were poorly led. They had no confidence in their officers, and believed that going into combat with these leaders would be disastrous. This is pretty typical in armies led by inexperienced officers. While Iraqi officers are getting more experience, there has been a tendency to take a lot of the best ones and put them in special counter-terrorism unit. A lot of obviously incompetent officers are left alone, because of pressure to maintain larger numbers of troops.
While the recent mutinies got some publicity, there have been others. Most were pretty low key, with the troops just refusing to move from their barracks. This no longer being Saddam's army, and they were not simply executed. But they did face being tossed out of the army, which is a big deal in an economy with over 20 percent unemployment. Then again, being unemployed is preferable to going into combat with incompetent officers.
There have been fewer mutinies than last year. The Iraqis won't release any numbers on this, nor will the Americans, who have advisor teams in all the Iraqi combat battalions. The American advisors have long reported poor morale, because of poor leadership. This has led to the ratings for Iraqi units, especially the low ratings of "not ready for combat." When a unit is ordered into a combat zone, and refuses to go, it means that there is a unit that thought it had good leadership, but the officers were not as good as the American advisor teams thought they were. The troops, in the end, get to cast their vote.

 


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