Training the New Iraqi Police

And everybody praised the Bush,
Who this great fight did win.
‘But what good came of it at last?’
Quoth little Rummikin.
‘Why that I cannot tell’, said he;
‘But ’twas a famous victory.’

[With apologies to Robert Southey (1774-1843) : ‘The Battle of Blenheim’]

Last week AP reported that the US occupation administration in Iraq “will speed up the training of Iraqi soldiers and police to cope with new security threats following stepped up attacks by insurgents…the chief administrator, L. Paul Bremer, [stated] that new money from Congress would allow the coalition to double the number of new soldiers trained for the new Iraqi army in a year’s time.”

But it is not practicable to ‘speed up’ training of soldiers in any meaningful way. Cutting corners or reducing the length of training courses results in production of bad troops. I know a bit about training soldiers. On returning from Vietnam I was made a company commander in a recruit training battalion, supposedly as a rest cure. Ho bloody ho. It was hard work, but one of the most rewarding postings of my service. My excellent officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers trained hundreds of youngsters who then attended specialist courses to start learning their trade, which took another six months at least. Then they went to units where they began to learn sub-unit tactics. At one time we were told by the pointy-heads to design a shorter course without reducing the amount of instruction. Of course this can be done : you simply increase the hours of duty, which results in exhaustion all round. Tired soldiers don’t absorb instruction ; tired instructors lose their edge. The idiotic slogan “achieve more with less” was trotted out, and, I am pleased to say, was laughed at.

Bremer and his boss, Rumsfeld, don’t realise that training soldiers needs time and dedicated experts : lots of both. Perhaps this will be another private profit-making scam employing former soldiers on contract, because Rumsfeld states no more US troops are to be sent to Iraq, and if there is to be an adequately-trained army there will have to be hundreds of instructors plus scores of interpreters and a large administrative organisation. Figures provided concerning the size of the new Iraqi army vary according to the spin being put on ‘Iraqisation’ following the latest guerrilla attack, and nobody seems to know what they want.

What is evident is that no sound planning for raising an army has taken place. It could hardly be so when the first idea (we can’t call it a plan) of having 27 Iraqi battalions trained in two years was suddenly modified by halving the time frame. Might this have been decided on the basis that in a year the Bush election campaign will be in full swing?

There appears little understanding of ‘Raise, Train and Deploy’ so far as these fundamentals apply to a new Iraqi army. As for ‘Supply, Administer and Command’ the problems seem even greater. Who is going to command at higher levels? Americans? Impossible. Former Iraqi army senior officers? Or, for want of anyone else, inexperienced and thus grossly over-promoted officers? Who, indeed, is going to command at lower levels? Where is the army nexus with the para-military ‘civil defence corps’, a hybrid gendarmerie with unknown powers over the civilian population? What laws govern employment of the army against fellow citizens? (None, at the moment.) Is it legal for an Iraqi soldier to kill an Iraqi civilian, as it is for a US soldier to do with immunity from any legal process? And to whom or what does an an Iraqi soldier swear allegiance? The rotating president of the Governing Council controlled by Bremer?

Bremer says 60 percent of enlisted men and all officers in the first two battalions to be trained by the Americans are from the former army. That would appear satisfactory. But what about the next 25 battalions, each 700 strong? What are the officer training arrangements? And how are Bremer and Rumsfeld going to produce 100 or so non-commissioned officers for each unit from scratch? They have to receive basic training, too, before moving on. They are then identified as potential NCOs and in turn receive further training. And so it goes: selection, training, experience ; selection, training . . . It takes years to build an army of even moderate competence. But Rumsfeld and Bremer think it can be done almost overnight.

Bremer, the man who ordered the sacking of countless academics, doctors, soldiers, policemen, mayors and administrators because they had Ba’ath party affiliation, has a lot to answer for. It is amazing that a man of such ignorance could have been appointed to any post of authority. His actions were not just stupid, but immensely counter-productive. He didn’t realise that in order to be employed at the professional level it was necessary for doctors and bureaucrats and others to have party cards, just as in Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union. Having your name on a list of Ba’ath members wasn’t direct evidence of loyalty to ‘Saddam’. It was more often just a meal ticket — as was pointed out by the State Department, that much-maligned and briefed-against body of experts whose wise advice was disdained by Rumsfeld’s boobies.

The most idiotic thing done after the war on Iraq was to disband the former army. It was not beyond human ingenuity to devise a system whereby former soldiers could be registered, vetted and either pensioned-off or re-employed. But no. There was an off-the-cuff decision to get rid of the lot of them, which resulted in a large number of resentful (and revengeful) former soldiers who blame the US for their plight. The decision was belatedly changed, sort of, in the incompetent fashion that is Bremer’s hallmark ; but the damage was done. (How many attacks on occupation troops are by unemployed former soldiers?)

Rumsfeld, who in a parliamentary democracy would have been sacked months ago, said on ABC’s ‘This Week’ on 2 November that although the number of U.S. troops in Iraq has been reduced from 150,000 to 130,000 “the total number of the security forces in the country has been going up steadily” because the number of Iraqi forces has “gone from zero on May 1st up to over 100,000 today.” In his curiously buoyant manner, so evocative of the disastrously incompetent Robert McNamara, the destroyer of Vietnam and of the US Army, Rumsfeld added “it’s the totality of those three (army, police, para-militaries) that needs to go up, and it is going up steadily. And there has not been a need for additional US forces.”

He is desperately trying to get himself out of the corner he boxed himself into when his silly little deputy, Wolfowitz, announced there would be no need for more troops in Iraq than the number required for the invasion. These two amateurs reviled the Army Chief, General Shinseki, for stating that “hundreds of thousands” of soldiers would be needed, and showed their contempt for his professionalism by failing to attend his retirement ceremony. (This was a revealing demonstration of their nature : mean, vindictive and vulgar.) Here is one example of the “security forces” which Rumsfeld, cocooned from reality, is so proud of. According to the AP’s Charles Hanley on November 3 : “As Spc Andrew Fifield [searched the load on the back of a truck] he motioned to Iraqi policemen to join him. None did.” His commanding officer, Military Police Lt-Colonel Dave Poirier said “A lot of them are not police as we’d know police back home to be. Some of them were never policemen before this”. We get the message. The new Iraqi police are useless.

But Rumsfeld and Bremer tell us these people have been trained and are an important element of the 100,000 “security forces” consisting of the army and all the other groups supposedly guarding Iraq. Whom do you believe? — ivory tower Rumsfeld or MP Lieutenant Colonel Poirier? No contest, is there? And surely the Pentagon chief would not be trying to deceive us about numbers by including in that 100,000 the thousands of privately employed guards responsible for individual protection and installation security? Perish the thought.

Iraq is a shambles. Programmes for properly-structured defence forces are subject to politically-motivated interference caused by panic reaction to the latest killing of occupation soldiers. Even as I write there is some half-baked scheme for yet another raggy-baggy militia being considered by Bremer. These people should tell the military what they want and leave them to get on with it. The alternative is further chaos in a country that didn’t do America the slightest harm, and is paying a high price for Bush’s famous victory. Rumsfeld and Bremer are speeding up to nowhere.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes about defense issues for CounterPunch, the Nation (Pakistan), the Daily Times of Pakistan and other international publications. His writings are collected on his website:

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.