The Iraqi Army
REUTERS/Khaled al-Mousuly (IRAQ)
This is an article excerpted from July-August edition of Military Review, the Army's professional, graduate level, journal.
Advising thr Iraqi Army
LtCol Carl C Grunow, USA
Recruiting, retaining and accountability.
One of the most critical tasks for the army is recruiting and retaining soldiers. Soldiers are under no effective contract, and they always have the option to leave the service. As of this writing, the only power holding them is the promise of a paycheck (not always delivered) and a sense of duty. Good soldiers leave after receiving terrorist threats against their families. Less dutiful soldiers fail to show up for training if they think it will be too hard. In areas where the duty is difficult and deadly, unit AWOL rates approach 40 percent. The old IA executed deserters unhesitatingly; the new army watches powerlessly as soldiers walk away from their posts, knowing full well that the army has no real means to punish them.
I believe that many of the officers join because they have a great sense of duty and want to save their country from chaos. They have assumed roles in the new IA at great personal risk. In my brigade alone, the litany of personal tragedy grew with depressing regularity. The commander’s brother was kidnapped and killed. The deputy commander’s cousins, hired to protect his family, were found murdered and stacked up on his doorstep with a note saying he was next. Two of four battalion commanders had to move their families because of death threats. A deputy battalion commander’s son was kidnapped and has not been found.
Staff officers,soldiers, and interpreters spoke of murdered relatives or told harrowing personal stories of close calls with terrorists.
Iraqi soldiers and officers are making a daily choice between continuing to invest in the new government and opting out to focus on making the best of possible anarchy. Without steadfast American support, these officers and soldiers will likely give up and consider the entire effort a lost cause. Until the government and its security forces become more competent, this will be a risk.
Personnel accountability is another issue, but not so much for the Iraqis as for the Americans. The Iraqis are horrendous at keeping track of their soldiers. There are no routine accountability formations,and units typically have to wait until payday to get a semi-accurate picture of who is assigned to the unit. Because Iraqi status reports are almost always wrong, American advisers have taken to counting soldiers at checkpoints to get a sense of where combat power is distributed.
In addition, Iraqi commanders are reluctant to deploy a robust percentage of their combat power outside the wire. In one instance, Coalition partners and advisers to 2d Brigade observed with alarm that a 550-man infantry battalion
could only put about 150 soldiers in the battlespace at any given time. Initially, American advisers tried to increase deployed strength by securing copies of the daily status report and questioning
why so few soldiers were on mission. We sat down with the Iraqi commanders and highlighted the dismal statistics in an effort to embarrass them into doing better. We attempted to get the Iraqis to enforce a Ministry of Defense (MOD) policy that allowed no more than 25 percent of the unit to be on
leave. We developed PowerPoint® slides that depicted the number of combat platoons
on security missions and asked about the status of uncommitted platoons. Using another metric to illustrate how the numbers
just did not add up, advisers counted combat vehicles on mission. This sustained effort led to no noticeable improvement. The Iraqis believed they were meeting mission.
They did not perceive their allocation of manpower to be a problem.
It was not until 2d Brigade was poised to take the lead in its area of operations (AO) that advisers witnessed a new approach to making the maximum use of available combat power. When they started planning their first independent operation, one of the Iraqi battalion commanders and the brigade staff worked together to devise a plan that allocated a significant amount of combat power to the mission. While some of this power was reallocated from current operations, a fair percentage was new combat power finally getting into the fight. Clearly when the Iraqi commander believed in the mission, he would find the forces to make it happen.
Still fighting the last war.
Another challenge is that the IA’s tactics are outmoded. They are still fighting their last war, the high-intensity Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, a war with clear battle lines fought with mass military formations, and one in which civilians on the battlefield were a nuisance, not the center of gravity.
Future advisers would be wise to study this war, an 8-year conflagration with a total casualty count of over 1.5 million. Large-scale attacks and huge battles were the rule. Iranian human-wave assaults presented Iraqi soldiers with a target-rich environment. I heard many stories of battlefields covered with bodies following huge expenditures of ammunition. The T-72 tank was considered extremely effective, but required infantry to keep Iranian soldiers from leaping onto them to deliver grenades. Iraqi officers claim the battles against the Americans of 1991 and 2003 were aberrations, whose outcomes they attributed to U.S. air power and huge technological overmatch. They continue to take great pride in their accomplishments in “defeating Iranian aggression.”
Accordingly, at the tactical level, officers and soldiers from the old army are inclined to try to solve current, low-intensity tactical problems using the techniques of the 1980s.
I frequently heard the refrain that if the Americans would only “turn them loose,” the Iraqis would defeat the insurgency in short order. But Iraqi commanders are reluctant to put tanks in an urban environment because the close quarters give excellent opportunities for insurgents armed with rocket propelled grenades. They refuse to split up three-tank platoons because it has been ingrained in them to never subdivide below this level.
Iraqi soldiers tend to react under fire as though they are in a large-scale attack. They must learn fire discipline and careful target selection in a battlefield filled with noncombatants. Unfortunately, the Iraqi “death blossom” is a common tactic witnessed by nearly every U.S. Soldier who has spent any time outside the wire. Any enemy attack on the IA, whether mortar, sniper, or an improvised explosive device, provokes the average Iraqi soldier to empty his 30 round magazine and fire whatever belt of ammunition happens to be in his machine-gun. Ninety percent of the time, there is no target, and the soldiers always agree that this is extremely dangerous, in addition to being a grievous waste of ammunition. But they continue to do it.
A similar phenomenon occurs when Iraqis react to the death of a comrade on the battlefield. The reaction is very dramatic. I once observed over-wrought Iraqi soldiers start to rampage through a civilian community, an event that could have been tragic if an adviser had not stepped in to stop it. At another time, an enemy sniper attack triggered a reaction that had Iraqis “returning fire” nearly 90 minutes after the enemy had delivered one deadly shot. This “burst reaction” may be attributed to Iraqis experiencing denial, anger, and grief all at the same time. Still, although they react strongly to the loss of a friend or loved one, grim repetition seems to allow them to move on rather quickly.
At the operational level, the Iraqis do not fully grasp the importance of multiple lines of operation, to include governance, infrastructure, and the economy. Their tool of choice is the blunt instrument of force directed liberally at all threats, real and perceived. The IA disdains working with civilians—the 60-division Saddam-era army had no need to ask for cooperation. Many Iraqis assured me that the local sheik is always responsible for whatever happens in the area under his control. Under Saddam, if any trouble occurred, the sheik and his entire family would be sent to jail with no questions asked. And jail in Iraq was an unpleasant place. Iraqi leaders understand our reverence for the rule of law in theory, but not in practice. For example, they have difficulty understanding why we treat detainees so well and why so many are released back into society. Under Saddam, the army did not have to worry about winning hearts and minds. Force and fear worked well to ensure domestic submission.
posted by Steve @ 1:01:00 AM