Paramilitary: October 10, 2003


There is a little bit of the Vietnam war showing up in Iraq, in the form of Iraqi militias and security forces being trained by American troops. During the Vietnam war a force of 2-3,000 Special Forces spent a decade training security forces among the million or so tribal people in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and Laos. In the first year of operation (1964), this program raised 19,000 CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Groups) to fight communist troops trying to take control of the area. Starting in 1965, Regional Forces were raised to help defend villages. There were 28,800 of these in that year, as well as 1,800 tribesmen trained to a higher standard and organized in Mobile Strike Force (or "Mike Force") battalions. There were also several thousand really elite tribal warriors who served with the SOG long range reconnaissance patrols. Until the Special Forces pulled out in 1970, there were always 40-60,000 tribesmen armed and trained to keep the highlands free of communist troops. And they were largely successful. 

Although Iraq is a very different situation, the idea of recruiting and training locals to defend themselves is the same. The marines, before World War II, did they same thing in the Caribbean and Central America. The key to making these programs work is selection and training. In Iraq, there are plenty of men with military experience, most of it bad. The Iraqi armed forces were poorly trained, and the few that were good tended to be in special security units used to terrorize the population or act as bodyguards for senior officials. Thus a lot of effort has gone into developing methods for finding who, of the many applicants, is trainable and reliable. Some of this is trial and error, but as was discovered in Vietnam, recruiting good troops from tribal populations is not impossible. At least as long as you keep in mind that most of these guys owe their main allegiance to their tribe or clan. 

As in Vietnam, Iraqis are being recruited for several different military organizations. The most obvious are the police and army. Most of the 40,000 police recruited so far had served in the police under the old government. Here, most of the effort is devoted to replacing the police commanders, and putting the policemen through several weeks of training in modern police procedures (especially why it is wise not to abuse your authority.) Corruption among the police is still a big problem. But there is a major effort to recruit and train an "internal affairs" force to police the police. This will be a first for Iraq, and Iraqis are dubious about the concept of honest cops (although many Iraqis with relatives in America have heard that honest police are possible.) 

The new army is following the same routine as the police. Most of the troops had earlier served in the Iraqi army. But now they are going through modern military training. The old Iraqi armed forces was very inept, poorly trained and led by equally incapable officers and NCOs. These men could be brave, but they knew little of the importance of well thought out, and constant, training. The troops are going through training similar to what American troops get. The big effort is in selecting, and training, new NCOs and officers. 

Unlike Vietnam, most of the trainers for the police and armed forces in Iraq are civilians. Actually, these civilians are usually retired military, with two or more decades of experience. This makes them more effective, overall, than active duty troops.

As in Vietnam, a lot of effort is going into training irregular troops. In Iraq, these are called ICDC (Iraqi Civil Defense Corps). These are often recruited and trained by American combat units to help with providing security for local civilians. This frees the American troops to go after the Baath Party diehards and their allies. The ICDC are also used to guard the borders and economic assets (oil facilities, power plants, ports, transmission lines, and so on.) The ICDC are not selected and trained as carefully as the new police and troops, but they are supervised more closely by the coalition troops that hired and pay them. 

Because of the need to be selective, and to insure that everyone gets sufficient training, you cannot create an Iraqi security force overnight. But now, six months after the country fell, there are nearly 100,000 new police, troops and ICDC at work, with another hundred thousand on the way. The Baath Party knows they are in trouble because of all this. It's one thing to run and hide, and shoot at, the Americans. But with thousands of heavily armed Iraqis on your ass, it's a very different story. And Baath knows that the very thing that has made them a threat, billions in cash, is making them a prime target for the American trained para-militaries. The Americans have been generous with the cash rewards to Iraqis who provide information about Baath activities. But Iraqi police and militias who get the scent of Baath cash will come running with guns blazing and visions of cash to be seized. Sometimes a little corruption can be a useful incentive. 




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