Iraq: January 26, 2004


: So far this month, five American helicopters have gone down, three to enemy action (investigations continue to determine the cause of the other two crashing.) The total American deaths has reached 513, most from attacks by Saddam supporters and Islamic radical terrorists. But most of the combat deaths from these attacks are among the increasing number of Iraqi government security forces (police and para-military security troops). By this Summer, the Iraqi government will be in charge of security in the country and the fighting will basically be Iraqi security forces against whoever is still armed and hostile. The details of exactly what American troops will be doing is still being negotiated. For the moment, the Iraq government recognizes that the Americans are much more effective at making raids and hunting down hostile elements in the country. Can Iraqis be trained to do this?

Iraq, despite decades of efforts (and hundreds of billions of dollars) has not produced much effective military power. Lots of guys in uniform and lots of tanks and other equipment. But not many people who can do what profession soldiers, like the Americans or British, can do. Coalition forces are trying to change that by training new police, security and military forces. One of the first things discovered were some important cultural differences. There was not the same "dedication to the (military) service" among Iraqis as is found in the United States and other Western nations. Desertion is far more common in Iraq (and was so even when Saddam was in power) than in Western armies. The Iraqis resist Western style discipline and work ethic while in the army. So the American trainers have eased up a bit, but have let the faint hearted ones leave. Concentrating on the ones who stuck it out has produced some professional and reliable troops. There are problems with officers as well. Nearly all the officers from the old Iraqi army were either corrupt or inept (by Western standards.) New officers are being trained, or promising NCOs being promoted. 

Much has been written about "Why Arabs Can't Win Wars," but it's forgotten that, if exposed to good training and leader selection, Arabs can become competent troops. The Jordanian army, which started out as the British trained "Arab Legion," has maintained effective traditions, and a reputation for battlefield effectiveness. The Egyptian army went through such reforms in the late 1960s and early 70s, and it worked. But, in general, Arab societies resist these military reforms and their armed forces remain impressive on paper and ineffective in battle. That is, ineffective if they are fighting well trained troops. When fighting each other, the Arab armies are not at a great disadvantage. So their bad habits are tolerable if they avoid going to war with a Western army, or Israel. 

Creating a modern, effective, Iraqi armed forces may have an interesting impact on the Arab world. Poor, tiny Jordan is one thing, but making these reforms in Iraq would attract a lot more attention, and attempts to emulate the Iraqi achievement. 

But an even more momentous event would be an Iraqi police force that was well trained and led, and not corrupt. This is a tall order. Even under Saddam, the cops were corrupt. They had little training and were often just thugs in uniform. Changing that has proved difficult. The coalition will not have control over police selection and training much longer. If the police return to the old ways, their ability to deal with anti-government forces and Islamic radicals will be diminished. 


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