August 31, 2006

"The Last Men Standing"

Hatched by Sachi

Progress in Iraq is slow, and sometimes it's difficult to discern any at all. All we hear everyday is that another bomb exploded, killing a few dozen more Iraqis.

So how do we tell whether the overall strategy is working? One way is to see how much of the country is ready to be handed over entirely to Iraqi security forces.

The target goal for new (post-Saddam, post Baath) Iraqi security forces is 325,000. This force will mostly be in place by year's end, according to Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who, as commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command - Iraq (MNSTC-I), is ultimately responsible for all training in Iraq. This is a remarkable achievment... but even so, training the Iraqi forces has not gone as smoothly as we hoped it would.

David Ignatius, who traveled around Baghdad recently with Gen. John Abizaid, Commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), discusses the huge difficulty of this process (re-paragraphed, to make it readable to ordinary humans):

A visit to Iraq leaves me thinking that the right answer is tough love. We don't need radical new plans for federalism, or sharp deadlines for withdrawing American troops, as anxious members of Congress have recently recommended.

Instead, America and Iraq need to agree on a reasonable timetable for the transfer of military control around the country - and stick to it. When provinces meet the schedule, they should be rewarded with more economic assistance. When they miss their deadlines, they should get fewer resources.

For most of the country, that transfer should be possible within six to 12 months. In Baghdad and in Anbar Province, it will take longer. But everyone should understand that America isn't prepared to keep writing a blank check.

Ignatius doesn't pull any punches; there clearly are some areas where the training is making little headway. And throughout Iraq, we're having a tougher time than anyone expected beating some of this thinking into the heads of Iraqis, who come from such a totally different culture than we:

The Iraqi Army was supposed to take control of Qadisiyah and neighboring Wasit Province from coalition forces in September. But that timetable recently slipped to January or February because of worries that the Iraqis aren't yet fully ready. So Iraqi officials here continue to avoid making tough decisions about resources, and local insurgents keep lobbing mortar rounds into the compound where Polish and other coalition troops are working with the United States to maintain order.

Training Iraqi forces has turned out to be not only the most important task, but the most difficult as well. During major combat ops, Coalition forces rolled across Saddam's pathetic military like a Humvee over a sandbox. But taking territory is one thing; holding it is a totally different animal.

The grand strategy of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has turned out to be the only workable solution: the Coalition cannot stay indefinitely; we cannot write Iraq a "blank check," as Ignatius put it. In the end, only Iraqi forces can hold Iraq and keep it from the terrorists.

But that means that the United States trainers and advisors will have to stay in Iraq long after the regular fighting troops have left. Ignatius continues:

[Lt Gen.] Dempsey tells me that next year he hopes to consolidate [the Iraqi security force], teaching the Iraqis mundane skills such as logistics management that make a modern army work. He quotes what was said of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on the need for steady nerve in this process: "Now is the time for 2 in the morning courage." He says the timing of transition "is an art, not a science"....

"The chances of success are good, if we give ourselves time to succeed," says Abizaid.

The Iraqi forces are well equipped; we've seen to that. Their level of combat skills are high and growing; already, they're the strongest Arab military force in the world.

So what is holding them back? The main problem is the Iraqi soldier's mindset and his lack of dicipline, and these derive directly from military deficiencies in Arab culture. Some soldiers still don't get the idea that they are Iraqi soldiers, not tribal militiamen, says Army Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard in a CENTCOM press release:

Pittard confirmed that 100 members of an Iraqi battalion had refused to redeploy to Baghdad. The soldiers were part of the 10th Iraqi Army Division, in southern Iraq’s Maysan province....

“The majority of this particular unit was Shia, and… the leadership of that unit and their soldiers felt like they were needed down there in Maysan in that province,” [Pittard] said.

In a way Iraq as a country is fictional... and I mean that literally. Civilization has always existed in Mesopotamia (literally, "land between the rivers"); in fact, it's considered the cradle of civilization. But it existed as independent caliphates for centuries, and independent city-states for thousands of years before that. The Ottoman Turkish Empire crushed the caliphates in the late 13th century and ruled the region for six hundred years, until the Turks' ill-fated decision to side with the Germans in the Great War brought the Ottomans down.

The region that would become Iraq was later cobbled together by the British from three Turkish regions: Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra. In the 1930s, the new country of Iraq was granted limited liberty by the Brits, who then reoccupied it during the Even Greater War. A series of coups d'etat in the 1950s and 1960s culminated with the Baath Party seizing power in 1968.

In 1979, Saddam Hussein murdered his way to the top of the Party. But his rule over Iraq itself was sustained by controlling a number of different tribes (with his own tribe from Tikrit being the boss) via bribes, threats, and the occasional bloody massacre as demonstration.

But many "Iraqis" never really had an identity as Iraqis; rather, they thought of themselves as the Tikrit tribe or the Mosul tribe, and beyond that, as Sunni, Shia, or Kurd. Given this centuries-old culture, it's very difficult for many Iraqis to grasp the concept that the army is for Iraq, not just to protect one's own region. In trying to democratize Iraq, we've run straight into the Bronze Age wall of essential primitivism.

But the good news is that only a few soldiers refused to be deployed. Most accepted the necessity... and that means that our years of training are truly starting to have an effect. Just today, I read another story about a successful provincial hand over:

Iraqi forces will take over security of a southern province from coalition troops next month, and will have control of most of the country by the end of the year, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Thursday

Dhi Qar will be the second province to come under the full control of Iraqi troops. British troops handed over control of southern Muthana province in July....

On Wednesday, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said Iraqi troops were on course to take over security control from U.S.-led coalition forces within the next 12-18 months "with very little Coalition support."

Because of these transfers of power from the Coalition to the Iraqis, our allied forces, such as Italy's 1600 troops and Romania's 628 troops, will be able to leave Iraq by the end of this year.

So it seems we take three steps forward then two back. But that's not surprising, nor a sign of failure, considering that we're doing something nobody has ever done before: we are actually taking a pre-modern people and wrenching them into the "now" -- by patience, by demonstration, and even by what David Ignatius would call "tough love" over the long haul. The CENTCOM release continues:

[G]eneral (Pittard) said he sees a long-term job for Coalition training teams with the Iraqi forces.

“Our major mission is to help develop and support the Iraqi security forces, and of course to advise them.… U.S. forces will be here as long as the Iraqi government wants us here,” he said.

“But I'll tell you … after the majority of U.S. forces leave, we'll still see some level of advisory teams that'll still be here. In fact, I feel like we'll be the last men standing at the end of the U.S. presence here."

Slowly but surely, we are making progress. It's not as fast as we wanted, but it is happening. We've been amazingly patient for a country in such a hurry as America!

It would be a dreadful shame if the Democrats were to take control, then simply cut and run -- just when Iraqis need us the most to achieve full self-sufficiency.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, August 31, 2006, at the time of 11:50 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Davod

Stop reciting the Canard that Iraq is not a region in itself. Go back past Islam and look at the map. Additionally, The Shiites, Sunnis and other religious factions have got on relatively well when compared to other Arab countries.

What we see now are the edges of society fighting to either get power or keep what they had in the past. Tough love is exactly what is needed. The ratbags either come to the democracy party or they die.

The above hissed in response by: Davod [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2006 2:40 AM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

I think the Iraqis think we will leave, they lack faith in our willingness to say and that also makes a difference in their willingness to stick out their own necks. After all they are Arabs and to their way of thinking America always runs away sooner or later.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2006 2:59 AM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye


Ratbags? That will help, that will win even more converts. I wonder how you say that in Arabic.

Something like 50,000 of those ratbags have died in Iraq in the last few years so I think they are aware of what is at stake better than either of us.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2006 3:01 AM

The following hissed in response by: Linh_My

we're doing something nobody has ever done before: we are actually taking a pre-modern people and wrenching them into the "now"


A favorite joke amongst advisors in Viet Nam in the 1970's in the delta was, "We are loosing because we are trying to drag Viet Nam kicking and screaming into the 20th century. The Communist are winning because they are content to drag Viet Nam into the 19th century."

At a recent veterans reunion I shared my hope that we wouldn't try to turn the Iraqis into Junior Grade Americans with an active duty O-6 with Iraq responsibilities. I expressed my my hope that we would find the Iraqi strengths and build on them instead. He was receptive. He was however surprised to learn that Viet Nam also had similar tribal, religious and other issues of a pre modern society.

Viet Nam today is a different place.

The above hissed in response by: Linh_My [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2006 3:30 AM

The following hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz

Worry about getting our troops out of Iraq. Not until they get out of Germany and Korea.

The most important part of a well disciplined army is its non-coms. It takes 10-15 years to make a good non-com. We have at least another decade in Iraq. Get used to it.

Civilization has always existed in Mesopotamia ... But it existed as independent caliphates for centuries, and independent city-states for thousands of years before that.

Not so. The land has almost always had an imperial ruler, at least for the last 30 centuries. This may do more to explain the weakness of civil society than mere disunity.

The above hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2006 10:58 PM

The following hissed in response by: Linh_My

The most important part of a well disciplined army is its non-coms. It takes 10-15 years to make a good non-com. We have at least another decade in Iraq. Get used to it.

Mr. Schwartz, You sound like there is some "been there done that" in your background. As a retired non-com (both from the Navy, PO2 and the Army, SSG) with Advisory experience in Viet Nam, I wish to add a few points. It takes more than good human material and a decade or more of training to make a good NCO. It also requires a hospitable Army and society.

The above hissed in response by: Linh_My [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 2, 2006 4:23 AM

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