2005 June 09 Thursday
Iraqi Army Company Not Ready For Prime Time

Washington Post reporters Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru spent a few days with an American Army Company and an Iraqi Army Company that at least in theory are supposed to be working together. The Iraqis do not want to fight and the Americans agree that the Iraqis do not want to fight.

Young Iraqi soldiers, ill-equipped and drawn from a disenchanted Sunni Arab minority, say they are not even sure what they are fighting for. They complain bitterly that their American mentors don't respect them.

In fact, the Americans don't: Frustrated U.S. soldiers question the Iraqis' courage, discipline and dedication and wonder whether they will ever be able to fight on their own, much less reach the U.S. military's goal of operating independently by the fall.

"I know the party line. You know, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, five-star generals, four-star generals, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld: The Iraqis will be ready in whatever time period," said 1st Lt. Kenrick Cato, 34, of Long Island, N.Y., the executive officer of McGovern's company, who sold his share in a database firm to join the military full time after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "But from the ground, I can say with certainty they won't be ready before I leave. And I know I'll be back in Iraq, probably in three or four years. And I don't think they'll be ready then."

"We don't want to take responsibility; we don't want it," said Amar Mana, 27, an Iraqi private whose forehead was grazed by a bullet during an insurgent attack in November. "Here, no way. The way the situation is, we wouldn't be ready to take responsibility for a thousand years."

Well that's clear enough, isn't it?

Progress in Iraq takes forms that are pathetic.

"They've come a long way in a short period of time," Cato, the Alpha Company executive officer, said of the Iraqi soldiers. "When we first got here, soldiers were going to sleep on the objective. Soldiers were selling their weapons when they went out on patrol. I was on missions when soldiers would get tired, and they would just start dragging their weapons or using them as walking sticks."

Well, if you can get your Iraqi charges to not sell their weapons the sky's the limit. The US Army soldiers refer to their Iraqi counterparts as preschoolers.

The Iraqis just want the money.

Almost to a man, the soldiers said they joined for the money -- a relatively munificent $300 to $400 a month. The military and police forces offered some of the few job opportunities in town. Even then, the soldiers were irate: They wanted more time off, air-conditioned quarters like their American counterparts and, most important, respect. Most frustrating, they said, was the two- or three-hour wait to be searched at the base's gate when they returned from leave.

The soldiers said 17 colleagues had quit in the past few days.

"In 15 days, we're all going to leave," Nawaf declared.

The two-dozen soldiers gathered nodded their heads.

"All of us," Khalaf said. "We'll live by God, but we'll have our respect."

These guys are Sunnis. Are the Iraqi Shia Army Companies any different?

Read the full article.

Thanks to Greg Cochran for the tip.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 June 09 10:49 PM  MidEast Iraq New Regime Failures

Bartelson said at June 10, 2005 3:54 AM:

"Well, if you can get your Iraqi charges to not sell their weapons the sky's the limit. The US Army soldiers refer to their Iraqi counterparts as preschoolers."

The sentiment expressed in the line above is exactly the sentiment that anyone who has lived and worked in the Middle East for any length of time develops. Non westernized Arabs act exactly like children and that is how you must treat them.

Braddock said at June 10, 2005 4:25 AM:

I agree with Bartelson. Arab clan mentality plus infantilizing islamic traditions keep these non-westernized arabs in a child-like pre-modern state. In Iraq Sunnis are the worst since they were pampered under the Baathists for so long. Pampered thugs accustomed to tormenting Shias and Kurds at will. Now the tables are turned and the poor little babies are having trouble adjusting.

Randall Parker said at June 10, 2005 5:59 PM:


They don't appear to be having trouble planting IEDs.

Stephen said at June 10, 2005 9:18 PM:


Shi'a or Sunni - there are plenty from either sect who would happily pop a round in an infidel if given half a chance. And we give them plenty.

Also, to say that Sunni's are 'thugs accustomed to tormenting Shias and Kurds' doesn't really make sense because Shia & Sunni are religious sects and the Kurds are an ethnic group. So there are Kurds who belong to the Shia sect and there are Kurds who happen to be Sunni - its like saying that Catholics are accustomed to tormenting Protestants (maybe) and Italians (even if they're Catholic).

In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the underlying tensions within Iraq are between the Baathists (ie nationalist Iraq) and the Shia/Sunni (ie a transnational muslim brotherhood). Currently, they're not fighting each other because both of those sides have a common enemy - the occupying power.

Stephen said at June 10, 2005 10:03 PM:

Describing arab society as 'child-like' doesn't work. Arab society is just as complex as western society or for that matter japanese society. That said, arab society is so different from western society that they're like oil & water.

As for dealing with Arabs - its not that they're like children, rather, its just different perspectives. From a western perspective, we assume there's a mutual obligation (ie I do something for you, you do something for me), but from an arab perspective they just see a rich sucker. Basically its like a western tourist in a poor country being surprised when some local offers to take their picture only to run off with the camera.

Unfortunately, in Iraq we're handing them our guns instead of cameras.

Jim said at June 11, 2005 2:43 AM:

As an American working for a private entity in Afghanistan with the Afghan Police forces, I can vouch that here things are not much better; men joined primarily for the money ($40/month for enlisted men, $80/month for officers), neither officer nor enlisted has much in the way of discipline, and even the competent few, usually commanders or men assigned to commanders, have little confidence in the trustworthiness of the police force as a whole.

Brian Stone said at June 11, 2005 4:36 AM:

This Washington Post article, which purports to be about the general subject of building Iraq's army, is actually about Sunni Arabs who have joined the Iraqi army for the money. Is it any wonder that such people are not prepared to die for the new order? The Sunni Arab insurgency offers many of them some hope that they may again have a position of privilege if the new Iraq falls apart, in the event that the U.S. gives up on Iraq under some future administration. Trying to get these people to go along with the new order is the main challenge. Getting them to fight for it is a much more difficult objective which realistically can only be achieved, given the nature of Arab society, when the Sunni leadership has bought into the new order. This some way off.

The Kurdish peshmerga are very different people, both in their willingness to fight and skill in doing so. I don't know about the Shi'a, but they have a lot to gain in the new Iraq, and I would expect that they would be a lot more interested in fighting for it. How about an article from the Washington Post on how these groups are going in the Iraqi army?

But the Washington Post is only interested in covering what's going badly in Iraq, and does its best to imply that this represents all of Iraq.

Marvin said at June 11, 2005 6:58 AM:

Brian, you are the only person making sense on this thread. Please post here more often. Thanks.

Randall Parker said at June 11, 2005 7:00 AM:


What is going badly in Iraq is costing us about $100 billion per year, hundreds of Americans (or perhaps over 1000?) dead per year, and many thousands more soldiers per year who will be damaged in mind or body or both for the rest of their lives (and we will pay for that for decades to come).

If the Sunnis won't join the Iraqi Army to fight against fellow Sunnis in the insurgency will the Shias go into the Sunni areas and put down the insurgency? If they won't (and I see little sign that they will) then how can this ever end short of a unilateral withdrawal by the US and its allies?

Yes, the Kurds are willing to fight for their own autonomy. I wish them luck.

Stephen said at June 11, 2005 8:02 PM:

Iraqi Sunni and Shia fought side-by-side during the war between Iran and Iraq - even though Iran is predominantly Shia. In fact, the Iranians aimed propaganda at the Iraqi Shia in an effort to get them to rebel or at least desert, but the Shia kept fighting with their Sunni comrades. The lesson is that religious sect was less important than nationalism or ethnicity (ethnicity because the Iranian's aren't arabs).

My thinking is that so long as Iraqi's have US soldiers to shoot at, their religious differences won't be that important. After all, those religious differences have existed for two thousand years during which time they've shared the same mosques, lived along side each other, traded with each other and even inter-married.

GUYK said at June 12, 2005 11:36 AM:

Well, I am surprised Stephen. I didn't know Islam had been around that long! Maybe 1500 or so years I would buy but not 2,000.

Pull out of Iraq and let the Iranians have it? Hell, why not. For that matter let the Iranians have Saudi and the rest of the Persian gulf states. Then we would only have one country to bargain with when we bought crude oil from the mid east. Put all morality aside and remember why the USA is in this place to begin with. It is about oil-not enriching the American oil companies but the ability to continue to get gulf crude oil.

If the Americans pull out someone will move in. Maybe the Iranians or maybe the Chinese-six of one and a half dozen of the other. Current price of crude to American markets could possibly double, the economy tank, the democrats get back in power, and oh hell. Nuke 'em andI'll buy a horse.

gcochran said at June 12, 2005 11:38 AM:

So far, as a result of our intervention, we've managed to cut Iraqi oil exports roughly in half - whoich has contributed to the big rise in oil prices, along with increased demand in China. Do you have any other bright ideas?

GUYK said at June 12, 2005 1:22 PM:

Yep. Cut the exports in half and really hurt the pocketbooks of UN leaders, the Vatican, French leaders, Russians, some Germans, and even a couple of American crooks. I'm not denying that the war was a screw up but I still back taking down Saddam Hussein. Problem was with American senior leadership. Hell, it was obvious from the first couple of weeks when MSM broadcast scenes of ragheads busting caps into the air with their AK 47s. Taking a territory means little if you can't hold it and control it. There was little attempt to disarm the population nor to control the borders. It was a year later before the house to house search effort to uncover arms caches began. I don't like it and I want to see it oer with. But is pulling out and leaveing a vacuum for Iran or China to fill really the best thing to do?

Stephen said at June 12, 2005 8:35 PM:

GUYK, you're quite right about the age of Islam. As for abandoning Iraq, I'm not sure we can - for all the reasons you cite.

Maybe a better solution would have been to pull out of the cities and limit our role to keeping the intercity highways open, securing the borders and securing the national infrastructure (power plants, water etc). Then we tell the Iraqi's that they're now responsible for governing themselves inside their cities, and we'll withdraw in stages as they rebuild their capacity. There'd be no US soldiers patroling city streets or manning roadblocks & checkpoints.

Using that system the Iraqi's could have time to build a government that suits them from the bottom up, rather than have one imposed on them from the top down. For instance, residents work together to form city councils, city councils work together to elect provincial leaders (this is a consensus building approach). Of course, some cities/provinces will go fundamentalist while some will go secular - but that's their choice. Then 2yrs later, people would hold a national election and elect people they actually know.

Unfortunately, while the above system might have worked on the morning after the invasion, now there isn't enough goodwill left on either side.

Braddock said at June 13, 2005 4:39 AM:

Sunni arabs in Iraq are thugs who have enjoyed brutalizing Kurds and Shias for several decades. Now is the time of accounting. Can they adjust to being equal? So far they are pitiful whining infants, using their funds to finance wanton murder. Can they mature?

The antagonism between arab Sunni and arab Shia in Iraq has been undiminished, even during the Iran-Iraq war. Mass graves have been unearthed from that era of large numbers of Iraqi Shias who refused to fight Saddam's idiot war.

Brian Stone said at June 13, 2005 9:32 AM:


You make the point that the war in Iraq is expensive in both money and lives. This is undoubtedly true. Why should the U.S. continue to prosecute it? This comes down to two issues: why it is necessary to continue, given that the U.S. is there, and why it was desirable to do so in the first place.

In brief, given that it is there, the U.S. must see this through because not doing so would enormously encourage militant Islamism. As Usama bin Laden says, "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse" (especially true in the Arab world). To abandon Iraq would be seen by the Muslim world as a major defeat for the U.S., and nothing encourages one's enemies more than a defeat.

On the larger issue of why this was worth doing in the first place, I believe the right way to think about the justification for a war is (1) that it needs to be morally justifiable, and (2) that those who risk their lives must be doing so to prevent or importantly reduce a major threat to the lives of their countrymen or allies.

(1) Deposing Saddam Hussein was morally correct. Stalin and Hitler were his models, and he ran a state arguable more brutal than that of Stalin. Leaving the massacres aside, a couple of examples of the depravity of his regime should suffice: Saddam arranged for children to be tortured in front of their parents to extract information; there was an official position of rapist within the security services.

(2) The argument that deposing Saddam and setting up a democratic state in Iraq (assuming that this goal is achieved) serves to protect the U.S. and its allies is more indirect. It is not about a military threat to the U.S. by Saddam at the time of the war, though he may have constituted a threat later, once the already crumbling sanctions had disintegrated, and he resumed his nuclear program, as seems likely. It is rather about the war with militant Islamism (served up in the unfortunate, deceptive and counterproductive euphemism "terrorism"), which will be with the West for many years.

If anyone doesn't think that this is a serious threat, both in terms of lives and money, consider how easy it is to make a gun-type atomic bomb of say Hiroshima size given a modest amount of highly-enriched uranium in metallic form, which could easily be smuggled into the U.S. via its porous southern border by say 4 people on foot prepared to die as a result of carrying it. And if you thing that getting enough HEU is likely to prove too difficult, consider that it is very easy indeed to get enough highly radioactive isotopes to make a dirty bomb, and not hard to weaponise them if you don't mind dying as a result. This would not kill nearly as many people as a nuclear weapon, but set off in just one well-chosen location, could cause hundreds of billions of dollars in direct costs and probably much more as a result of what it would do to the economy, not to speak of its effectiveness as terrorism. See for example this Scientific American article. And there is no doubt at all that militant Islamists would like to use these weapons against the U.S.

Ultimately the only way to fight militant Islamism effectively is to deal with its roots; anything else is at best a holding action. An analysis of the causes of militant Islamism is a long and complex story, but can be summed up in the phrase "a failure of modernity" in the Middle East. Historically, modernity brought more efficient means for (mostly) Arab tyrants to impose their will on the populace, with diminished popular participation and legitimacy for the ruler. True modernisation would have meant the acceptance of freedom of thought and expression which were anathema to the rulers of the Middle East: they wanted the factories, goods and weapons of the West without the intellectual and cultural infrastructure which made them possible, because this would have threatened their domination. This is still the case. Another factor is the long, painful decline of the fortunes of Islam at the hands of the West. The level of historical awareness in the Middle East is high. Some key events, remembered by many, are the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula, completed in 1492, and mentioned by Usama, the first turning back of Ottomans in Venice in 1683 and the final end of the Ottoman empire and the caliphate in 1923 under the Westernising Mustafa Kemal. Combine this loss of honour (the central organising principle of Arab society, along with tribalism), the persisting oppression by their rulers, the visible failure of their societies to keep up with the West, the fact than Western powers over a long period propped up Middle Eastern despots, and it is no wonder that those offering a radical and violent solution in the form of militant Islamism, which promises to restore their honour and power, have widespread sympathy, estimated at 15% of the 1 billion or so Muslims.

Iraq provides an opportunity to establish one society in the Middle East with a fair degree of freedom, modernity, and economic success while maintaining a individual identity. There is a tremendous undercurrent of desire for freedom in the Middle East, and once there is one free Muslim country in the region, there will be enormous pressure on rulers to liberalise their societies. In favour of Iraq as an opportunity is its recent history of secularism, somewhat reversed since 1991; against it is the complex ethnic situation, and the many mistakes of the U.S., including for example Bush the elder's encouragement of rebellion amongst Iraqis, only to leave the rebelling Shi'a to the tender mercies of Saddam's military.

It is true that Saudi Arabia will be slow to reform, and that Saudi-funded Wahhabist madrassas throughout the world (including the U.S.) are the single biggest factor in spreading the cultural basis of militant Islamism. A radical program of energy independence for the U.S. would be the best option, but this shows no signs of happening. The likely near-term arrival of peak conventional oil production will help to diminish their relative importance even as it increases their revenues.

I return now to my original point, namely the absolute priority for the U.S. and its allies of bringing the Sunni Arab leadership wholeheartedly into the political process, without which Sunni Arab soldiers will not fight for a new Iraq, and more importantly without which there may be a civil war, despite Sistani's best efforts, which would seriously threaten the whole undertaking.

Stephen said at June 13, 2005 5:27 PM:
It is rather about the war with militant Islamism (served up in the unfortunate, deceptive and counterproductive euphemism "terrorism"), which will be with the West for many years.

So, what role in support of 'militant Islam' did Iraq play prior to the invasion?

Friendlyfire said at June 18, 2005 4:47 AM:

"Regime change has not been one of our policy objectives... our goal is the removal of weapons of mass destruction"
13, March 03 - Prime Minster John Howard

And people wonder why Iraq has turned into a disasterous Quarmire. :rolleyes:

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