Iraq: Dealing With The Desertion Disease



April 15, 2008: The fighting between government forces and Shia militias continues, with some interesting results. Three weeks of violence have revealed that the Mahdi Army (as many suspected) was not very united, or obedient to leader Muqtada al Sadr. As police and troops captured more and more Mahdi Army members, and facilities were, it became rather obvious that this "army" consists of many independent minded factions, and many of these are basically criminal gangs, trying to pass as secular militiamen. This, and the heavy damage to the Mahdi Army (several thousand members killed, wounded or captured in the last month) caused army leader al Sadr to consider disbanding the organization.


Fighting is heaviest in the main Mahdi Army areas in Baghdad ("Sadr City") and Basra. U.S. troops have assisted by providing aerial reconnaissance and manpower to cordon off the battle areas. Everyone, except the foreign media, has been pleased with the performance of the Iraqi police and troops. But this was viewed differently overseas, where much was made by the foreign media, when the government fired 1,300 soldiers and police for deserting or refusing to fight. Locally, this is seen as tremendous progress. The Iraqi army and police have a long tradition of, well, bugging out when the going gets tough. Remember that the Iraqi army largely melted away in the face of the U.S. and British invaders in 2003. In 1991, about a third of the Iraqi troops occupying Kuwait in 1990-91, deserted by the time coalition troops attacked in January, 1991. During the 1980s war with Iran, desertion was such a pervasive problem that Saddam had to come up with some novel techniques (think "carrot and stick" on steroids) to deal with it. Even before Saddam, Iraqi reluctance to stick around once the fighting begins, was just considered another national characteristic. But five years of troops selection and training have changed that attitude considerably.


Some things have not changed. The corruption, especially the plundering of government income and resources, continues on a large scale. Some government officials don't even bother to preach against the evils of corruption, but just accept it as a fringe benefit. What is changing is the extent to which non-government groups (like secular militias and criminal gangs) can engage in the plundering. The recent operations against the Mahdi Army has shut down a lot of purely criminal activity, like the way gangs controlled gas stations and electricity supply.


In the last week, the government carried out the execution of 28 criminals (including some members of Shia militias) for capital offenses. All those convicted were tried by the courts, and lacked the cash or contacts to get out of it.


April 14, 2008: Iraqi troops, going house-to-house searching for Mahdi Army members, stormed into a house guarded by several armed men, and found a British journalist who had been kidnapped two months ago.


April 11, 2008: Riyadh al Nouri, head of the Mahdi Army in, was murdered near his home. This was seen as an assassination, and sending a message to al Nouris boss, Muqtada al Sadr.


April 10, 2008: One of the top five al Qaeda leaders in Iraq, Abu al Jarrah, was captured in western Iraq (Anbar province). These days, every month, several al Qaeda leaders get killed or captured. The ones taken alive tell of increasing chaos and panic within the organization. This is not surprising, and tracks with the decline in terror bombings.