Training Soldiers in Iraq

” . . . just one of the 120 US-trained Iraqi army and police battalions was able to operate without US forces, General Casey and General Abizaid told senators. The Pentagon said in July the number was three.”

Reuters, September 29.

“Every day, the number of Iraqi security forces are getting bigger, and they’re getting better, and they’re getting more experienced . . . There are an awful lot of people chasing the wrong rabbit here.”

Rumsfeld, September 30.

“I’m encouraged by the increasing size and capability of the Iraqi security forces . . . they have more than 100 battalions operating throughout the country, and our commanders report that the Iraqi forces are serving with increasing effectiveness.”

Bush, October 1

Generals Casey and Abizaid aren’t the sharpest intellectual knives in the drawer, to put it kindly, but at least when faced under oath with the unpleasant necessity to tell the truth they decided not to equivocate. In July there were supposedly three military units of Iraqis that could fight their way out of a paper bag. At the end of September the generals admitted they had a singleton in freedom-fighters, Bush-style. But Rumsfeld directly contradicted them by saying that every day in every way things are getting better and better. And who was standing by his side as he spouted this lying garbage? Why, none other than General Casey, he who had stated truthfully that things had gotten worse.

If there were any honor left in the senior ranks of the US Army, Casey should have looked at the deceitful weasel at his side and said : “Mr Secretary, this is neither my belief, nor what I said on oath to Senators of the United States of America. I have therefore no alternative but to resign forthwith.”

But have you ever heard of anyone resigning a prestigious post on a matter of honor or point of principle?

Certainly, Casey is incompetent. In July he said there would be “fairly substantial” US troop reductions early next year ; then on September 28 he said it was “too soon to tell” if there could be cuts. OK ; so perhaps he is just an oaf. But there is no reason for him to be a dishonorable oaf. He knows perfectly well that Iraq is a shambles and that the Iraqi army is no more fit to fight than it is to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy. The US Army has, alas, become a mere political echo of the Cheney-Bush administration, and its generals (it is inappropriate to use the word ‘leaders’) are promoted on the basis of political acceptability. They are pathetic Yes Men, and can be regarded only with contempt.

The toady Casey “standing side by side with Rumsfeld, Friday, said Iraqi security forces are progressing and continue to take on a more prominent role defending their country with coalition forces”, but the poor little puppet must know that this is absolute tripe.

Casey claimed that “more than 30 Iraqi army battalions are deemed capable of leading a combat operation against the insurgents, even if they require US support.” He is a liar. There is no question of an Iraqi unit “leading” a combat operation, because that necessitates command and control of support elements, no matter who provides them.

All military operations in Iraq are planned and directed by the US, and there is no possibility that Iraqi commanders or the Iraqi government will ever be permitted to direct US or ‘joint’ operations against their own country folk. Certainly, selected Iraqi units will be used to attack areas inhabited by those who are not of their own religion or ethnicity, which is the classic colonial divide and rule approach. For example, when hundreds of Sikhs were killed at the orders of a British general during a riot in India early last century the soldiers who fired at the mob were Nepalese Gurkhas, not British troops. It was ever thus.

And on October 2 Casey went even further in his retreat from reality and truth when he said the training of Iraqi forces is “very much on track”. It is not on track. And it is simple to explain why it is not on track.

Iraq’s armed forces were disbanded by the occupying power immediately after the invasion. There was not an officer or soldier left in uniform. Training of an Iraqi army had to begin from scratch. To anyone with an IQ greater than that of a very small rabbit, it is obvious that this would take many years.

Training a soldier is a long and complex process.

Let us examine how training is conducted in a country in which there are no language difficulties (that is, instructors speak the same language as recruits), and there is a competent standing army with well-selected instructors of dedication and proven skills. By definition, there are higher headquarters staffed by experts who know how to pay and administer troops. There are reasonably comfortable accommodations and decent food. There is, above all, no insurrection taking place. None of these apply in Iraq.

To bring a recruit to the absolute basic minimum of knowledge required for him (or her; but let’s use ‘him’ for convenience) to even BEGIN training as an infantry soldier takes twelve weeks. In this time he learns rudimentary skills : how to strip and assemble a rifle and fire it ; how to live and work as part of a team ; basic hygiene (Oh, yes, in western armies, nowadays, this is essential; you wouldn’t believe the squalor some recruits have lived in) ; and other tiny tots’ things. He learns about the structure of the army, how it works, and where he fits in. He is identified as to suitability for a specialty, such as driver, cook, clerk, infantryman, artilleryman or signaler. I could go into more detail, but you get the picture : transforming any civilian into even the basic beginnings of a soldier takes a lot of time and much dedicated effort.

Then, after three months initial introduction to the army, the infantry recruit has to begin to learn about tactics : how to work as a member of a squad and a platoon, and how to fight. Remember that in existing armies there is a functioning structure in place, so a recruit who has graduated from the basic course will enter a well-oiled (perhaps the wrong word, here) system of further training at a specialist establishment staffed by highly experienced experts. Then he goes to his unit, where he really begins to learn the art of soldiering. And even then it takes an experienced infantry battalion months to train for its next deployment. Does anyone think for a moment that a US infantry battalion can simply up sticks and take off for Iraq without months of specialized sub-unit and unit training? (The answer is probably Yes, where Rumsfeld is concerned.)

In Iraq there is none of this. The entire army and its training system were destroyed on the orders of Washington.

When the US army began to try to create soldiers from the raw material of youngsters off the streets and out of the fields there were no Iraqi non-commissioned officers or officers. Training leaders is a process that takes years. Even a West Point or Sandhurst graduate, after long instruction, has to undergo many more months specialist training by very high-grade people before becoming effective. A non-commissioned officer is promoted only after at least a couple of years’ service as a private. To become a sergeant major takes a lot longer. It is impossible for leaders to be created instantly.

The training system (to use a kind description) in Iraq is inadequate to the point of being ludicrous. There are many well-meaning and dedicated US army NCOs and officers who are trying very hard to create an Iraqi army, but their efforts are doomed to failure. They were tasked with the numbers game and dare not deviate from what is demanded by the Pentagon. The product is lousy in quality but meets the political requirement. It enabled their fatuous draft-dodging commander-in-chief to announce on October 4 that “Right now there are over 80 army battalions fighting alongside coalition troops. Over 30 Iraqi — I say, army battalions — Iraqi army battalions. There are over 30 Iraqi battalions in the lead. And that is substantial progress from the way the world was a year ago”. This is not just the usual illiterate gibberish from Bush : this is bizarre, because in some mysterious way the Iraq army lost twenty battalions in the three days since he announced “they have more than 100 battalions operating throughout the country.” The man is insane.

Rumsfeld and Bush wanted numbers. And they got them. Just as they got generals who try to tell the truth and then turn turtle when the truth is inconvenient to their political masters. After the generals told at least part of the truth to Congress they were ordered to appear on October 3 in no fewer than four TV Sunday network talk shows, when they destroyed their dignity and honor.

Generals Abizaid and Casey were setting an example of loyalty, but one wonders whether their subordinates are absolutely sure that their example is one they want to follow. The generals were being loyal to their political masters, but not to their troops or to the truth. It’s downhill all the way from now, until there is a cleansing such as the one that took place after the Vietnam debacle. The toadies and incompetents have got to go, starting at the top.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website










We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005


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