2006 August 19 Saturday
Iraq Government Army Understaffed And AWOL

On the New York Times front page the caption for clicking through on an article by chief military correspondent Michael R. Gordon neatly encapsulates much of what is wrong in Iraq:

Iraqi soldiers are underpaid, underequipped and frequently AWOL. And then there’s the problem of serving a government that hardly exists in a country that’s tearing itself apart.

Aside from that things are going really well over there.

The article itself is long and excellent. The practical way the US Marines see Iraq underscores the depth of the problem.

The rules posted on the wall of the Marine base in Barwana concisely summed up the American predicament in Iraq: Be polite, be professional, have a plan to kill everyone you meet.

That such an attitude is necessary speaks to the scale of the Iraq debacle.

The Iraqi military continues to suffer from soldiers not showing up for work.

In the Haditha triad, Col. Jebbar Abass, a beefy man with a drooping mustache, commanded an Iraqi battalion that started out with about 700 soldiers in the fall of 2005. It was now down to about 400 troops. Since almost a third of his battalion is on leave at any one time, that means that Colonel Abass can field about 270 soldiers on any given day, a useful supplement to the Marine forces in and around Haditha but hardly enough to enable the Americans to draw back.

Lt. Col. Norman Cooling, commander of the Third Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, which has responsibility for the Haditha area, says that the Iraqi Army has been making important strides in terms of tactical proficiency. “The problems that have made that the most challenging are problems with leave, pay — those things that relate to Iraqi government decision-making and execution,” he told me. “Because of that the Iraqi Army throughout Al Anbar has attrited.” Figures provided by American military commanders show that the two Iraqi divisions in Anbar Province are about 5,000 short of their authorized strength, while some 660 soldiers are currently AWOL.

The amount of military resources the US has applied to Iraq has been enough to waste huge amounts of money and lives while still being too little to get control of the insurgency. The US Marines in Anbar province in the heart of the Sunni triangle have enough soldiers to go where they want but not enough to make an appreciable dent in the insurgency. In fact, soldiers in Anbar are getting shifted to try to restore some order in increasingly chaotic Baghdad.

This lethal game would be more manageable if the insurgency were weakening. Instead, it is stronger than ever. In July, 2,625 I.E.D.’s (improvised explosive devices) were found throughout Iraq, almost double the January number and the highest monthly total to date. (Of these, 1,666 exploded, while 959 were discovered before they detonated.) And by now the entire nation is caught in a vicious circle: terrorist attacks have encouraged the development of Shiite militias, which have carried out assaults against Sunnis, who have in turn provided support for insurgents. The Marines have enough combat power in Anbar to operate where they please but not enough to stop the insurgents from intimidating the population, Marine commanders say.

Some of the Marine officers I talked with were frank about the need for more American troops. Lt. Col. Ronald Gridley, executive officer with Regimental Combat Team 7, which has responsibility for a major swath of the province, told me during a visit to the unit’s headquarters at Al Asad that the regiment has recommended that additional troops be allocated to its section of Anbar. A battalion or two, he said, would help a great deal. “What we recommend and what we get is going to be two different things,” Colonel Gridley said. “In our perfect world, we could use some more infantrymen to be able to patrol the streets and partner with the Iraqi Army.”

The US has never had enough troops in Iraq. The Bush Administration has fantasized that the Iraqi government troops would rapidly scale up and take on the job of putting down the Sunni insurgency. But the government is corrupt, doesn't pay the soldiers on time, and does not inspire much loyalty. Also, local governments in places like Basra are under the control of some faction which is putting the screws to other factions. Also, the other factions are upset they are cut out of the corruption that lets government officials skim off money. So of course supposed "government" forces under the control of one tribe will fight "tribal" forces of another tribe.

I do not see how all this is going to get better unless, perhaps, the US government goes on a massive bribery binge among faction leaders in Iraq to try to pay people to act more nicely.

The US government has a hard time opposing the Shiite militas that are wings of parties in Iraq's elected ruling coalition.

Iraq’s elected government is dominated by two Iranian-backed Shiite fundamentalist parties. They are backed on the streets of Baghdad and in the Shiite south by two Hezbollah-like armed militias. In Parliament, their power is reinforced by two Kurdish separatist parties, also with their own militias, which have been allowed to run the Kurdish northeast like an independent state within a state.

Washington doesn’t complain too loudly about these militias, because without them, the Iraqi government would be even weaker than it is now. But so long as they are allowed to enforce their murderous brand of vigilante justice, it is ludicrous to claim that Iraqis enjoy democracy or the rule of law.

Vigilante Shiites and Sunnis keep killing each other in a cycle of revenge. The US government helped make this possible. Your tax dollars at work.

The New York Times reports on factional fighting between Shiite Iraqi factions.

In Basra, a gun battle erupted between Iraqi Army troops and members of the dominant local tribe, the Bani Asad, apparently angered by the killing on Tuesday of a tribal leader, Faisal Raji Al-Asadi, government officials in Basra said.


In Karbala, Wednesday’s violence took on a different hue, as security forces controlled by Shiites who are aligned with the main pro-Iranian bloc, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, fought militiamen loyal to a local Shiite cleric opposed to Iran’s influence in Iraq. The battle led security forces to cordon off the city to most nonresidents and impose a curfew to restore order.

Note that even though the Basra fighting was between government troops and a local tribe the government troops might have been fighting for some other tribe or political party rather than for the abstraction called "Iraq".

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 August 19 09:19 PM  MidEast Iraq New Regime Failures


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