Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What are we standing up?

I came across this a few days ago and thought it was interesting. It's just one Marine's observations, but it rings true to this ex-tanker.

After discussing what appears to be ingrained Iraqi military culture (officers beating up subordinates, officers stealing supplies, rations and money), this Marine trainer sums it up with:

So after 6 months we've:

- taught them techniques for planning operations...they won't do it.
- shown them how to conduct weapons sustainment ranges...they won't do it.
- we've shown them how to conduct convoys...they won't do it.
- we've taught them moral and ethical behavior required of soldiers...they won't do it.
- we've taught them how to manage logistics...they won't do it.
- we've taught them personnel and administrative management...they won't do it.
- we've taught them how to operate tactically...they won't do it.
- we've taught them how to sustain the life support systems on the camp...they won't do it.

Basically we have taught them how to be a self sufficient battalion, but unless the Marines do it for them, they won't do anything. They ALWAYS revert back to the "Iraqi way" when we are not around and that involves DESTROYING and WASTING everything they get their hands on.

Though repugnant to us, there's nothing inherently destructive about officers striking troops. The South Korean military is one of the best in the world, and is known for doing exactly that -- officers beating the snot out of sergeants, sergeants beating the snot out of privates. It can work if it fits with local culture.

But what the rest implies is that by Western standards the Iraqi Army will never be ready to tackle things on its own.

Of course, under Saddam the Iraqis were rather good at squelching uprisings, so we know that they can get the job done in that respect. But that involved minority Sunnis beating down majority Shiites, so they had incentive to do a good job and there was a limit to how far they could go. And it was brutal. If the new Iraqi Army -- which is mostly Shiite -- begins doing the same to minority Sunnis, it could turn into a minor genocide. Even if it doesn't, their approach is likely to be far messier, brutal and corrosive to democracy than anything we could possibly condone.

Add this to the list of questions that need to be answered as we "stay the course": What can we expect from the new Iraqi Army? At what point do we say, "we've done all we can"?

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