Why Iraqi army can’t fight, de­spite $25 bil­lion in U.S. aid, train­ing

The Kurdish Globe - - FRONT PAGE -

Hus­sein She­hab knew things were go­ing badly when he spot­ted the Iraqi po­lice pickup trucks. They were fly­ing the black flag of Is­lamic State fight­ers, who were driv­ing the ve­hi­cles straight to­ward him and his fel­low Iraqi se­cu­rity force sol­diers.

It was June 9 in Mo­sul in north­ern Iraq. She­hab, a fed­eral para­mil­i­tary po­lice of­fi­cer as­signed to an army unit, re­al­ized that other of­fi­cers had aban­doned their ve­hi­cles and fled Is­lamic State fight­ers who were about to seize Iraq's sec­ond-largest city.

By the end of the day, She­hab's en­tire di­vi­sion had col­lapsed. Two army di­vi­sions also dis­in­te­grated as thou­sands of sol­diers and po­lice of­fi­cers shed their uni­forms, dropped their weapons and ran for their lives. She­hab, told that his com­man­ders had de­serted, tossed his ri­fle and ran away too.

"We felt like cow­ards, but our com­man­ders were afraid of Daesh. They were too afraid to lead us," said She­hab, 43, us­ing the Ara­bic acro­nym for Is­lamic State.

She­hab and oth­ers in his bat­tal­ion de­scribe Iraq's se­cu­rity forces as poorly led and sparsely equipped, with sol­diers sus­pi­cious of com­man­ders and un­cer­tain they would get enough food, wa­ter and am­mu­ni­tion in the heat of bat­tle. Dis­ci­pline is ragged, men dis­ap­pear or go on leave at will, and com­man­ders list "ghost sol­diers" while col­lect­ing their pay­checks, they said.

"This army is not pre­pared to fight. No­body trusts any­one, not even from their own sect," said a 32-year-old fed­eral po­lice of­fi­cer who asked to be iden­ti­fied only by his first name, Amar, for fear of ret­ri­bu­tion from his su­pe­ri­ors

The mil­i­tary col­lapsed in Mo­sul even though Wash­ing­ton spent eight years and $25 bil­lion to train, arm and equip Iraq's se­cu­rity forces. The United States has now de­ployed 1,400 ad­vi­sors to try to re­build the shat­tered mili- tary into a force that can re­pel Is­lamic State.

Amer­i­can com­man­ders say the Iraqi army won't be ready to mount op­er­a­tions to re­take Is­lamic State-con­trolled ci­ties such as Mo­sul for many months. Mean­while, Iraq's gov­ern­ment has turned to Shi­ite Mus­lim mili­tias and Sunni Mus­lim tribes­men as it scram­bles to keep the Sunni mil­i­tants from ad­vanc­ing on Bagh­dad and its air­port.

The U.S. mil­i­tary has not ex­plained how a few more months of "ad­vise and as­sist" will cre­ate a func­tional army after years of train­ing was fol­lowed by whole­sale de­ser­tions in Mo­sul and in An­bar prov­ince to the west of Bagh­dad. Sol­diers and po­lice seek­ing to avoid mass ex­e­cu­tions if they were cap­tured left be­hind weapons, am­mu­ni­tion, ve­hi­cles and other U.S.-sup­plied equip­ment now used by Is­lamic State to at­tack more gov­ern­ment po­si­tions.

The U.S. mil­i­tary wit­nessed Iraqi army short­com­ings as long ago as 2003. Dur­ing the Amer­i­can-led in­va­sion that year, thou­sands of Sad­dam Hus­sein's sol­diers — in­clud­ing the sup­pos­edly elite Repub­li­can Guard — shed their uni­forms, tossed aside their weapons and de­serted. Among to­day's most bat­tle-har­dened Sunni mil­i­tants are Hus­sein-era Baathist mil­i­tary sur­vivors.

Asked how many Iraqi se­cu­rity forces are com­bat-ready to­day, a U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand spokesman, Maj. Cur­tis J. Kel­logg, said the com­mand could not pro­vide an es­ti­mate. He sug­gested ask­ing the Iraqi army.

Ques­tioned about the army's com­bat ef­fec­tive­ness, the com­man­der of se­cu­rity forces in and around Bagh­dad, Brig. Gen. Ab­dul Ameer Kamil, said morale has im­proved as his units shift from de­fense to of­fense.

About half of Iraq's army is de­ployed in and around Bagh­dad, ac­cord­ing to com­man­ders. A third is in An­bar, where Is­lamic State con­trols most of the Sunni-dom­i­nated prov­ince.

Kamil blamed the Mo­sul col­lapse on be­tray­als by some com­man­ders and frightened sol­diers who fled after Is­lamic State fight­ers blared pub­lic an­nounce­ments that "Daesh is com­ing!" Some sol­diers joined the mil­i­tants.

"This will never hap­pen in Bagh­dad," Kamil said. "Our troops here have high spir­its and they support each other. We have the ini­tia­tive now.

Kamil said Iraqi forces were un­der­mined in Mo­sul by Sun­nis who re­sented the Shi­ite-dom­i­nated se­cu­rity forces and au­to­cratic gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad and wel­comed the Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

Se­cu­rity force mem­bers ac­knowl­edge that many Sun­nis and other mi­nori­ties see the Shi­ite-led army as a bru­tal oc­cu­py­ing force. Un­der for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Nouri Ma­liki, a Shi­ite, Sun­nis were driven out of the se­cu­rity forces and re­placed by Shi­ites.

"The army be­came Ma­liki's pri­vate mili­tia," said re­tired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Ea­ton, who was in charge of mil­i­tary train­ing in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

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