Monday, August 29, 2005


A Visit with the Iraqi Army

We rolled on to the compound, and initially started to go through the normal stand down procedures for coming onto one of our FOBs. We were interrupted before we could complete these procedures, as our training team came out to meet our vehicles, and told us that we could and should stay in a “red” status. Gunners went to Amber, and remained with the vehicles along with most of the crews.

Our Officer in Charge (OIC) started our visit with a Commander’s slide presentation of his training of the IA unit. Following the slide presentation, we were joined by Deputy Commanding General (DCG), along with an IA LTC, who acted as an personal Interpreter for the DCG, in addition to a US Contractor, who attended our entire visit and otherwise translated for other IA officers as required.

The DCG spoke generally of the training needs of the IA. (We were to discover and explain to the DCG later in our visit that we were not, in fact, US Army trainers who would be working for him, as he thought, but rather guests of our team, simply visiting the facilities.)

The DCG explained that the IA was most in need of trust and discipline, and that this applied at all levels of society. He described that the IA were learning from the Americans a kind of openness and a form of equality, but that these new “freedoms” needed to be offset or balanced by a high amount of discipline, trust and self-less service. Under Saddam, the Army was politicized, and sections and people in positions of power looked for what they could gain, personally. Corruption and selfishness was still a big problem.

The DCG specifically mentioned his G2 element, Intelligence and Security. (This was to be a recurring theme with the Deputy Commander, who quite explicitly said he needed our trainers’ help in making the Intelligence Department “get with the program,” like the G1, G3, G4 sections.

Under Saddam, The DCG explained, the Intelligence components of IA were a part of the security and (secret) police apparatus. They were how power was consolidated, held, and expanded. Now, under the new model, the G2 was a necessary component of the Command, but it was still acting independently, interfering with the other G elements, and not sharing (intelligence) information with the Commanders. The DCG explained that he needed Intelligence to “work straightly” (honestly and without subterfuge). They need to serve the people, and be the guide, the Commander’s eyes. They need to embrace ideas of equality and democracy, and not look for ways to benefit themselves. He described his mission as looking after Soldiers, making sure they were paid, but encourage them to focus on their work.

The DCG said, their work is “right.” He implored we Americans to give the Iraqi a chance, to treat them kindly and attract them to us. He said not to believe reports about breaking into houses to take Iraqis. (I believe he was saying, he does not believe that we are doing this.) Arab peoples have different traditions, we need to respect them. When the Americans first came, The DCG described, we taught them how to obey(?); now, we need to treat our Soldiers how to respect and treat people well, not harm or hurt them. He gave an example of crushing a vehicle in our way, a vehicle that turns out to be the only means of support for a family. (I believe at this point the General was describing points of possible friction and misunderstanding between IA and US forces.)

The DCG explained that his family was from Baghdad, and as much as they suffered during the years of Saddam, they didn’t really know what was going one elsewhere in the country.

He spoke of his hope of making Iraqis “one team,” that we teach Iraq what democracy can be, not discord and chaos, but can include discipline. Iraq, he said, had not been Islamic only, there were other principles, there were the “actions of Islam,” but not in a religious way. (I think he was speaking here of a kind of surface Islamism, either referring to Saddam’s transparent posturing, or perhaps of a societal “culture” not matched by religious fervor.)

Most Iraqis, The DCG explained, don’t have Islamic backgrounds, and many do not know their own history. The DCG identified his own family intermixing of Kurds and Sunni and Shia, that this is very common. Saddam created and sustained and left as a legacy distrust, but reading and learning can dispel that distrust. Uneducated people shed blood, they don’t know any better.

We then were treated to Chai (tea), soda, and water, in the large banquet room.

At the end of our initial meeting with The DCG, he escorted us around the facilities, taking great pains to show us all of the renovations they had completed in just one week’s time. (He frequently commented on what terrible shape the buildings had been left in. He showed us a big white board at the entrance to the HQ, which listed in detail all pay and allowances for the different ranks of IA Soldiers, and identified what withholdings came out for taxes, etc. The DCG explained that this was to ensure that all Soldiers knew what they were supposed to and would receive, and prevent any of the paymasters or leaders from stealing some of their pay due. (This had been a problem.)

Likewise, The DCG identified large placards in the parking lot that were to hold unit status and readiness information, number of Soldiers, number on leave, etc. He explained that they were all serving 3 weeks on, 1 week off, that many Soldiers were from quite some distance away, and were given the extra time to be able to commute to their families when off duty.

He also pointed out equipment that they had salvaged that had been discarded by departing American forces. The DCG made heavy use of inventories, vehicle and equipment counts featured prominently throughout the HQ.

The DCG also introduced us to the HHC CPT, a young man who explained a normal duty day, beginning with PT at 0630, training after, a quick breakfast at around 1000, lunch around 1300, and then training in the afternoon. They train 5 days a week, with Fridays and Saturdays off, during which time the Soldiers could clean, do laundry. Play sports, and relax.

We then were introduced to the Commanding General (CG). The CG likewise gave a very general talk about the IA and treated all of us with great courtesy and respect, as had the DCG. (Both Generals wear the red stripe on their shoulder boards, signifying Officers trained at War College.)

The CG introduced his talk with us by stating that the IA “would not be here” without the help of the Americans. He spoke poetically of two hands, the American unit and IA unit, that both hands are needed to clap. And when we will clap, he said, “the world will hear us.”

The CG spoke proudly and eloquently of the dramatic change in the mission of the new Iraqi Army. He spoke of a history, beginning in 1921, when the British Army first helped them organize, and upon whom they modeled their forces, units, and organization. He pointed to a stack of manuals, and said the IA had learned how to fight from the British, that they had a long and proud history, but that these manuals and knowledge had fallen into disuse and forgotten, during the long years under Saddam, when Officers advanced due to politics and tribe connections.

The CG explained that he had had a comfortable life with the Peshmurga in the North, but had accepted his current command because they needed his help and he wanted to help the Iraqi Army rediscover its proud history. He spoke several times of needing to prepare his unit for their next Commander.

The CG described an IA whose morale Saddam had destroyed. He also mentioned the role of Intelligence, how they needed to “go look for the enemy.” Saddam used Intelligence to use fight each against the other. Intelligence forces were “brainwashed,” trained full of suspicion and distrust. The General’s G2 element wouldn’t move into the HQ, they resisted cooperating, they were not focused on their mission, they were busy worrying about the work of the other G elements. They were used to power, being involved in everything, involved in patronage. The CG asked our OIC if he was related to any of us. He compared that to the IA, where the G2 is staffed by a group of people of shared tribal connections. These are the only people they feel they can trust.

The CG interrupted his remarks to escort us to a luncheon. He and his staff officers (CPT and above) sat around a very long banquet table, and our party joined them in no particular seating order, although the two Generals appeared to gesture for our female officers to sit near them. Our CSM sat between two LTCs, with whom he discussed the role of the NCO Corps, especially the roles of CSM and 1SG in assisting Company and Battalion Commanders. While our enlisted Soldiers were invited to the table and not refused, no IA enlisted Soldiers shared our meal, and IA Lieutenants were seated at tables below us on a lower portion of the room.

The meal was described as pretty typical for the Officers. Roasted chicken, a soup of roasted lamb shank in some type of beet soup, savory rice with some seasoned carrots on top, various fresh vegetables, peppers and cucumbers, a relish mix of some kind, and nan-type bread in a very long jumbo cigar shape. We were also served Chai after our meal. When the CG was done, he rose, and we all at that point got up with him, and followed him back to his office, where our audience with him resumed.

The CG suggested it will take 10-15-20 years to change attitudes. It was always a Regional Army, based on tribal associations. If the IA stays that way, it will drain energy needed elsewhere.He notes a big gap between civilizations, between the Americans and the Iraqis. They learn from us the ways in which we treat each other. He described how Iraqis would eat with their hands; they watch us with silverware, now they are learning too. He mentioned enlisted Soldiers, how they were from lower classes, not educated, while Officers were more educated. How the enlisted needed to be checked, how their hygiene and sanitation was poor, now they are better, the officers don’t need to “check their feet.” The IA has no experience with either the concept nor practical application of a Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) as the primary trainer and leader of Soldiers.

The CG said they were learning mutual respect as well. When the Americans first came, Officers and superiors, if someone stepped in the room, might yell at them harshly. They see the American Officers and Enlisted treat each other without yelling, or rudeness. The CG identified this change as an example of learning democracy. The General said he still can’t accept that he should consider a Command Sergeant Major the equal of Officers, and our CSM assured him that whoever told him he needed to was not telling him the truth. (Some of us weren’t so sure how he meant that.)

The CG concluded his remarks with an observation. He said that Iraq had been in captivity, imprisoned in a Dictatorship. Now, they were free, suddenly out in the open, and Iraqis don’t know what to do exactly with their freedom.

Our visit with the General concluded with him giving our group a box of confections, crushed cocoanut wrapped in log shapes around pistachios, which our Senior Officer accepted for our group.

The DCG escorted us back to his office, spoke for a short time, then presented us each, one by one, with a pair of Nike sneakers and a pair of socks, shook our hands, and thanked us for the honor of our visit. We pledged to return the generosity of his gift with some soccer equipment for his Soldiers.

Links: Basil's Blog, Major K, Mudville Gazette, Good News from Iraq (Winds of Change), Blogotional

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