2006 June 27 Tuesday
Bush Administration Insincere About Training Iraqi Army?

Writing in The American Conservative, former US Army officer Joe W. Guthrie relates his experiences in a training team for the Iraqi Army.

Army doctrine and training have not accounted for a unit in combat having both to fight an insurgency and train indigenous peoples to assist in the fight. I started out as a one-man operation that grew into a cell of 60 people who rotated in for a week to a couple of months at a time. That infusion of manpower would seem to bolster the notion that Iraqi training was a priority. In reality, our leadership sent soldiers with suicidal tendencies, weight problems, and disillusionment. In a year’s time, we received only one visit from the battalion commander, only one visit from our battalion’s operations officer, and only one visit from the battalion executive officer.

This isolation set us up for failure with the Iraqis. Meetings with the Iraqi colonel in our partner Iraqi army battalion were conducted by a master sergeant and me, and almost always a problem arose in these meetings beyond our authority to control. When asked to meet with our Iraqi army colonel, our battalion commander refused.

He relays many examples of fraud in the Iraqi military and society.

The US military does not want the Iraqi military operating on its own.

From October 2004 to June 2005, the prevailing attitude of our battalion—including my own at first—was that the Iraqis were incapable of conducting operations independently. However, after speaking with locals and Iraqi army officers, I reached a different conclusion. The locals asked me why Iraqis were not doing more on missions. Iraqi officers told me that they conducted company-level operations on their own nearly a year prior to our arrival. Did our higher command know and simply not choose to use this information? Or was it a ploy to prolong a state of perpetual war?

I decided to test the theory. In March 2005, I began to send Iraqis out on missions into Mosul, usually unbeknownst to my battalion, and found them capable of conducting missions on their own except when they were hampered by our military values and horrible perception of the local area. When I sent Iraqis out alone, they found evidence and insurgents that we never were able to, though they were none too careful about complying with the Geneva Conventions. Once battalion discovered these missions, they quickly reeled them, and me, in. All Iraqi missions would thereafter be dictated by our U.S. battalion, and I would make sure that the Iraqis performed these missions in the exact manner in which they were dictated.

How can the US military tell the Iraqi military what to do? Simple really: The US military holds the purse strings that fund the Iraqi military.

Each month, along with our cell’s master sergeant, I handed a minimum payment of $100,000 to the Iraqi army battalion. $50,000 covered their monthly operational budget—facilities upgrades, maintenance parts, etc. The other $50,000 went toward the battalion’s subsistence budget, which allowed each soldier $90 a month for food. The problem was that the Iraqis said they had 556 soldiers, and we never counted more than 350 at any given time. Yet we were ordered to pay on the basis of the numbers they declared, with the remainder going directly into the Iraqi leadership’s pockets.

The operational budget proved to be an even worse disaster. Each month we handed over $50,000, yet no money was ever spent on tools for the mechanics, no improvements were made to the buildings, no new vehicles were ever purchased. So why did we continue to give $50,000 each month? The Iraqi army officers would not perform for anything less. We were bribing them to keep up the appearance of a workable fighting force.

Our receipts for these transactions were cleared back through the comptrollers who tracked what U.S. battalions were spending. When it was learned that we were spending $100,000 a month, we were told that we were not spending enough and were accused of not supporting the mission. The message was clear: the more money we gave the Iraqis, the greater chance of keeping the Iraqi unit together.

Of course the Iraqi officers are corrupt. Would you expect anything different? But, hey, why not use those cash payments more constructively? Hasn't the US military ever heard of Pay For Performance? Where are the McKinsey management consultants and other business consulting gurus when we need them? How about Management By Objective? What would it cost to pay Iraqi officers to, say, defeat the insurgency in Ramadi? But maybe Bush doesn't want to win on those terms or even to win at all?

$100,000 per batallion per month is chicken feed.Just for equipment the US will spend $17 billion next year.

The annual cost of replacing, repairing and upgrading Army equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to more than triple next year to more than $17 billion, according to Army documents obtained by the Associated Press.

Imagine offering Iraqi batallions money for achieving various objectives. A few hundred thousand dollars or even a couple million dollars per objective would cost little compared to the over $100 billion the US is now spending on Iraq and Afghanistan this year.

Guthrie suspects the Bush Administration does not want the Iraqi military to become effective and that the real plan is to establish permanent US bases there to control Middle Eastern oil. Could they be that foolish? It seems plausible at least. After all, they have made so many other colossal mistakes in handling Iraq.

For the cost of the Iraq Debacle we could buy every driver in the United States a Prius (really, do the math). We could fund construction of hundreds of nuclear power plants. We could insulate millions of buildings. We could fund large numbers of research labs pursuing breakthroughs in photovoltaics and batteries.

Click through and read the full article. It has lots of insights.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 June 27 10:29 PM  MidEast Iraq New Regime Failures

John S Bolton said at June 28, 2006 2:51 AM:

the superior officers could not be so nonchalant about Iraqi units' military performance if there were a serious push to develop their capabilities. The main concern appeared to be to inflate numbers, of Iraqis trained and available. Image was being treated as more important than reality.

Ned said at June 28, 2006 7:46 AM:

Absolutely fascinating report, especially so because it appears in a conservative journal (pretty tough to characterize the "American Conservative" as part of the knee-jerk leftish MSM). What is this Administration's goal in Iraq? Is it to make that country a permanent defacto US colony and use it as a military base to project power in the Middle East? To threaten (or maybe more than threaten) Iran and Syria and to keep the Gulf oil states in line? If so, the current military presence is much too small. Bush is being as dishonest about Iraq as LBJ was about Vietnam. BTW, the best use for the "extra" $17 billion would be to give it back to the taxpayers, aho will allocate it far more efficiently than government.

Bob Badour said at June 29, 2006 6:00 PM:

I read the whole article. Wow. A whole new war of numbers.

That's so discouraging. I hope GWB is right about heaven and hell. I hope he suffers unimaginable torment for eternity--that's the only thing that could possibly suffice.

Randall Parker said at June 29, 2006 7:53 PM:


I was amazed by the article. I thought I was sufficiently well read and cynical about Iraq that my expectations were adjusted low enough to get close to the truth. But I was wrong.

This is one of the most enlightening articles I've read on Iraq. That's disappointing because hundreds of thousands of soldiers have served there and a decent fraction of them in positions where they'd get to see all sorts of things that do not make it into the newspaper. We need some reporters to go around interviewing former soldiers who have served in Iraq.


I still can't figure out what Bush thinks he's doing.

Bob's reference to "A whole new war Of numbers" is to the highly excellent book by former CIA analyst Sam Adams, entitled War Of Numbers. Adams figured out during the Vietnam War that the US military was cooking the books on enemy troop strengths. He was poorly treated for his achievement.

Bob, Did I get you to read that book years ago? I have a faint recollection that I encouraged you to read it.

Ned said at June 30, 2006 9:00 AM:

RP and Bob -

Thanks for reminding us about Sam Adams and the War of Numbers. I'd completely forgotten about it. Remember that CBS hired Adams as a consultant and ran a special based largely on Adams's work. General Westmoreland brought a libel suit against them but dropped it before it went to the jury.

GWB continues to remind me of LBJ (I'm old enough to remember him). The similarities are eerie - both are Texans, both promoted tremendous increases in federal spending and massive new entitlement programs, and both became involved in quagmire Asian wars. Also, both feuded with congressional majorities of their own parties. Deja vu all over again or what?

I share your uncertainty about Bush's true aims in Iraq. He has never really levelled with the American people, who, after all, are paying the freight here. I wonder if Saddam's failed assassination attempt on Bush's father has anything to do with it? How cynical to claim that the US overthrew Saddam because he was a "brutal tyrant." He was that, of course, but the world has lots of "brutal tyrants," most of whom we leave alone. And was Saddam any better back in the 1980's, when he was a de facto US ally and received lots of goodies from us during his six year war with Iran? Anyway, can anyone except a tyrant (or group of tyrants) hold together a multiethnic regime in that part of the world? The regimes in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria suggest not.

Bob Badour said at June 30, 2006 3:30 PM:

Yes, Randall, I read Sam Adams' book _War of Numbers_ after your recommendation. The parallels between what happened then and what are reported in this article are disheartening.

The US will never win a war where the front-line soldiers are punished for accurate reporting to their superiors. The dishonesty usurps the principle that the military in a democratic nation serves the civilians of that nation and not vice versa.

I hate very few people, and I hate George W Bush. He deserves severe punishment for his evil acts. Slick Willy may have been dangerously irresponsible, may have brought disgrace to his office and to the nation, may have exemplified the basest motives in a shallow pop culture, but he was not overtly evil in the same way as GWB.

Randall Parker said at June 30, 2006 5:34 PM:

My guess on Bush is that once having gotten us into a far larger mess in Iraq than he expected (he and Wolfowitz really did expect us to be extremely popular there) his main goal is to avoid losing face by admitting he was wrong.

Bob Badour said at July 2, 2006 5:46 AM:


Are you suggesting that because pride motivates Bush's intransigence that it somehow make him anything other than evil?

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