Pace: Independent Iraqi Battalions in Decline
Gen. Peter Pace says that the number of Iraqi battalions (about 500 men) who can operate wholly independently of the US forces has fallen in the past year from 10 to only 6. He also says we should not worry about that statistic.
He points out that the number of battalions who can be ‘in the lead’ on military operations has risen from 88 to 100. But presumably it has only really risen to 96, with 4 of the new ‘in the lead’ battalions having formerly been able to operate independently.
In fact, the important figure is how many can operate independently. That means that they will go to the front when ordered, will actually fight, won’t run away, and might actually accomplish something, even if there are no US troops anywhere nearby. Iraq apparently has about 3,000 troops of that description. My guess is that they are mostly Kurdish Peshmerga on loan from Kurdistan. I.e., Iraq probably has almost no Arab troops who would and could fight independently for the al-Maliki government, as opposed to cannon fodder pushed before US battalions and afraid of being shot as deserters if they turn tail.
And this is the situation after 4 years!
Some have asked me whether the most direct route to a US withdrawal is not to spend more money and effort training an Iraqi army that could operate on its own and would stand and fight.
In my view, this ideal is unlikely to be attained. Most Iraqi troops are actually the equivalent of a local national guard. They will defend their neighborhoods, but most will not deploy to other parts of the country when ordered to do so. There is little evidence of them being willing to stand and fight on their own, except on a neighborhood level (i.e. Badr Corps Shiite militiamen in the police or army will fight Mahdi Army militiamen for control of a Diwaniya neighborhood, especially if they have US air support. But they have not shown that they are willing and able to fight Sunni Arab guerrillas effectively).
Moreover, a lot of the reason for this problem is simply that most Iraqis don’t much care for their new government and certainly are not willing to die for it. I saw this in Lebanon in the late 1970s. An army has to believe in its government in order to be reliably deployed. Lack of political will is fatal to military discipline. Iraq is fractured and so is its political will, so effective military intervention is very difficult. The population in the military is not different from the general population in this regard (except, in Iraq, in the case of the Kurdish Peshmerga).
The political resolution has to precede the military resolution. That is why the Lebanon Civil War ended in 1989 with an act of political will, the Taif agreement. After that it was possible to rebuild the Lebanese military.
McClatchy reports civil war violence in Iraq on Friday:
‘ Baghdad: 5 policemen were killed and 9 others wounded in clashes between the guards of the ministry of interior affairs and gunmen hiding behind Al Gailani fuel station downtown Baghdad around 2:00am.
– Gunmen killed an Iraqi journalist working for New York Times newspaper near Al Saidiyah fuel station south Baghdad around 9:00 am.
– 3 civilians were killed and 5 others were injured when the US troops opened fire after an IED explosion targeted the US army convoy in Al Fadhiliyah neighborhood north east Baghdad around 11:00 am. A car and a house were burnt in the incident.
Note that US troops laying down fire around them appears to have killed more people than did the roadside bomb. You wonder how typical this is, and whether it isn’t one reason for the roadside bombs. The relatives of those killed by the US, even if it was inadvertent, are unlikely to forgive and forget.
(For more on this kind of thing, see this Nation piece by Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian.
McClatchy also reports lots of violence in Diyala province.
I doubt things have changed since this ITV 4 report based on the photography of Sean Smith, last October, in which troops on the ground express the severest doubts about Iraqi troops taking over, and in which the Iraqi commander says that the country was better off under Saddam. One commander told his men not to shoot at insurgents. The unreliability of many Iraqi police is also underlined. In the end the US unit has to raid the offices of their ally, the Iraqi army, some of whose troops are doubling as insurgents!