[Marxism] New Iraqi army draws upon old one
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 21 07:42:55 MST 2005
Under U.S. Design, Iraq's New Army Looks a Good Deal Like the Old One
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 21, 2005; A01
TAJI, Iraq, Nov. 20 -- Clad in the olive-green uniform of old, his heart
rising to the sound of the lilting march to which he once went to war for
President Saddam Hussein, Sgt. Bashar Fathi, a veteran of Iraq's once-elite
Republican Guard, watched Iraqi tanks trundle across a parade ground
recently -- just as they once swept across the sands of Kuwait.
"This ceremony -- this same music -- it makes us remember the old army,"
marveled Fathi, standing on the top tier of a reviewing stand south of
Baghdad. Next to him was Capt. Khudhair Alwan, whose contact with U.S.
forces began by trying to kill them as they invaded the southern city of
Basra in 2003.
But this is 2005, not 2003, and this is the new army, not the old one.
Fathi and Alwan, switching allegiances if not uniforms, are enlisted man
and officer in the new Iraqi army, at the same rank they held in the old one.
The two are at the core of the remaking of Iraq's security forces. The
first U.S. administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, disbanded Hussein's army.
But since then, Iraq and the United States have drawn upon Hussein-era
soldiers, many of them from the ruling Baath Party, to rebuild Iraq's
military. The process was well underway when the Iraqi Defense Ministry
called last month for recruits from among junior officers in Hussein's
"The vast majority of officers were in the previous army," said Lt. Col.
Frederick Wellman, spokesman for the U.S. command overseeing the
reformation of Iraq's security forces. "People asked us why we didn't call
back the old army," he added. "And the answer is, well, we have."
The Bush administration says that, by the time Bremer's post-invasion
administration ended in June 2004, the reconstituted Iraqi army could count
more than 80 percent of its officers and the majority of its enlisted men
as former members of Hussein's army. The Iraqi Defense Ministry continued
open recruiting, including appeals for whole units to reenlist. An August
notice in Iraq's state-controlled al-Sabah daily newspaper, for instance,
urged members of Hussein's former transport logistics units to sign up for
the new army.
The logic of recruiting the old soldiers is this: To withdraw the main
might of U.S. troops here, American officials say they must leave behind an
Iraqi army capable of fighting the insurgency. The military must be able to
defend the country and government against what Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus,
the former top U.S. commander in charge of rebuilding Iraq's army, said
would almost certainly be attempts at coups and other civil unrest.
The Hussein-era officers "have the officer training, combat experience and
staff and leadership skills to enable them to begin contributing fairly
rapidly," Petraeus said by e-mail before leaving Iraq in September.
Bremer's order on May 23, 2003, to disband Hussein's nearly 400,000-strong
army is seen by many critics today as one of the gravest miscalculations by
the United States in Iraq. Removing all vestige of Iraq's army when there
were not enough U.S. troops to fully secure the country left borders open,
allowed the insurgency to flourish and encouraged the growth of private
militias, the critics say. Jobless and embittered, some troops turned to
U.S. officials insist that Hussein's army effectively disbanded itself --
melting away after Americans invaded -- and that reinstalling the old,
Sunni Muslim-dominated military would have been impossible, and unacceptable.
In fact, Iraq's American overseers at first never planned to reassemble
much of an Iraqi army. The plan was to field a 40,000-man army, one-tenth
the size of the old one, only by 2006. Iraqi troops would concentrate on
tasks such as disarming land mines while U.S. troops handled the fledgling
insurgency, then-senior U.S. military adviser Walter Slocombe said in June
At Kirkush, an Iraqi military training base near the Iranian border, Maj.
Muhammed Ghalib, a veteran of the old army, paused and searched for the
right words when asked by a reporter to describe the first stage of
remaking the army. "Chaos," Ghalib, 20, finally said. "It was chaos at the
"The biggest mistake U.S. forces made was to disband the Iraqi army," said
Ghalib, speaking over the summer at a graduation ceremony for recruits.
"It's then when the chaos started," especially when civilians in some cases
were put in charge of training, he said.
"Now the situation is better, and the army is more qualified, because it is
100 percent Iraqi training, and the same old qualified officers training
the soldiers," Ghalib said.
"It's better now," agreed Fathi, the former Republican Guardsman. "If they
put all the former army officers and soldiers back in the new army, it
would be even better."
In the spring of 2004, about half of the new Iraqi army either refused to
fight or joined the insurgents during the first battles in the city of
Fallujah. At the time, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey was commander of the 1st
Armored Division. In September, he took over from Petraeus.
Dempsey recalled receiving a warning last year from Abdullah, the Saudi
crown prince at the time, that Americans would find it tough to restore
order after dissolving Iraq's only two powerful institutions -- the Baath
Party and the army.
Dempsey declined to speculate on how much different Iraq would look today
had the old army not been dissolved. "I don't know about the loss of
momentum," Dempsey said in an interview last week. "I've stopped looking
back to that, and I'm trying to figure out how to get forward."
Dempsey spoke after a ceremony Thursday officially delivering 77
Hungarian-donated Soviet-era T-72 tanks to the Iraqi army, giving the force
its most formidable armor so far. Loudspeakers played music that would be
familiar to members of Hussein's army -- including "We Are Walking to War,"
the anthem to which hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men went to battle
against Iran in the 1980s.
The low-slung, refurbished T-72s, with gunners saluting from the hatches,
rolled past the reviewing stand without breakdown or excessive smoke. The
music, the martial pageantry and the tanks -- the same model as the tanks
Hussein used to roll out to war against his neighbors and his peoples --
had men in the stands speaking nostalgically.
A crucial difference between now and then is that only one of Iraq's 10
divisions is armored, and the United States envisions Iraq as having little
air force, and presumably little ground defense against enemy air weaponry.
U.S. warplanes could wipe out Iraq's tank division in a half-hour, a U.S.
To make the point that the new army is meant to fight guerrillas rather
than invade Iraq's neighbors or level Iraqi villages, U.S. officers tend to
describe what they are training as a counterinsurgency force, rather than
After last year's partial meltdown, the Iraqi army is in line this month to
cross a symbolic mark: 100,000 men trained and equipped. The goal is
135,000. The Defense Ministry's call for junior officers from the old army
has drawn applications from 3,769 officers, with 2,662 of them accepted,
said Wellman, the U.S. spokesman.
Many Western diplomats critical of the U.S. invasion and the handling of
the American occupation nonetheless give Petraeus and others credit for the
latest work on rebuilding the army.
But there are still doubts. One is whether Iraq's sectarian communities,
under arms, will hang together or turn against one another. Even at the
graduation ceremony at Kirkush in August, many of the heavily Kurdish
forces could do the wave in the stands, at U.S. coaching, but could not
talk to their Arabic-speaking fellow troops. Petraeus at the time
acknowledged the risk but declined to venture how it would turn out.
The recruitment drive for junior officers from the old army was in part an
effort to draw more Sunnis into the new army, lessening the perception that
Iraq's newly ascendant Shiite Muslims and Kurds run security forces. Senior
officers in the old army were generally members of the Baath Party and
Sunni; junior officers were Baath Party members and drawn from different
All 99,766 of the soldiers now in the army had to take a national oath, and
U.S. and Iraqi leaders maintain a careful mix of officers at top levels.
Those are among other measures to try to keep the army from being dominated
by Shiites, Kurds or Sunnis. "The goal here is to make the army and
eventually the police force an institution of national unity," Dempsey said.
Army training for the time to come will focus on building an army that can
maintain itself -- keeping up payroll, supply chains and everything else,
U.S. generals said.
"There was a point in time we were really trying as hard as we could to
build the security forces fast," Dempsey said. Now, "it's not that we're
trying to build a security force fast -- we're trying to build one that's
good and capable." Growing pressure in the United States, with more
lawmakers pressing for American troops to turn security over to the nascent
forces and leave, cannot "be the factor that informs my decisions," Dempsey
In Taji, Alwan, the Sunni army captain, was ready to set a timeline for
significant U.S. withdrawal. "Two years," Alwan said. If the Americans pull
out before that -- before the government is steady, the constitution set
and the army trained -- it "means we would go to civil conflict," he said.
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