A Corps Priority

by Carl Forsberg:

In his Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli wrote that a new regime “ought to organize everything anew.” In the creation of the Iraqi army, American and Iraqi administrators seem to have taken Machiavelli’s words to heart, recasting Iraq’s military training and education systems in the image of Western models.

With 10,000 generals—compared to about 300 in the U.S. army—Saddam Hussein’s officer corps was top-heavy and corrupt. Frederick Kagan, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a leading proponent of the Baghdad Security Plan, or “surge,” told the Globalist that, “The Iraqi army before 2003 was typical of a conscript army in a totalitarian society.” Such a set-up is hardly conducive to the establishment of an ordered democracy. Since 2004, Coalition forces and the Iraqi government have tried to construct not only new units but also a new military culture. Their efforts have focused on military training and have established institutions that provide the foundations for a strong, professional military, including a Westernized military academy, advanced academic programs for senior officers, and in-the-field training and mentoring opportunities.

A NATO assessment team sent to Iraq in the summer of 2004 identified a serious training gap for the mid- to upper-levels of Iraqi leadership. Much of NATO’s contribution focuses on the higher levels of the Iraqi army and consists of out-of-country training for mid- to senior-level officers. In 2006, over 300 Iraqi officers took courses at the NATO Defense College in Rome and other NATO training schools in Europe.

British and American forces also reestablished the pre-war Iraqi Military Academy at Ar Rustamiyah, just outside of Baghdad. The British army, which first established Ar Rustamiyah in 1924 when Iraq was a British protectorate, took the lead in instituting a Western military curriculum in 2004. The British rebuilt the academy on the model of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, providing an intensive nine-month training program for cadets holding a college degree.

However, while Western support for military training is important to establish stability, most recognize that programs need to be turned over to the Iraqi military. The Iraqi Joint Staff College, established in the summer of 2005 to provide advanced academic training to mid- and upper-level officers, is primarily staffed by Iraqis who have been prepared by a fifteen-week NATO training program. The Iraqi government has expressed a preference for this kind of in-country training. “Iraqis must see the Iraqi Security Forces being trained in their cities and provinces,” Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha’lan told a NATO assessment team in 2004. “Only in this way can they build confidence in the future security forces of Iraq.” Training of Iraq’s military leadership has extended beyond the academy. Coalition forces have established Military Training and Transition Teams (MiTT) in an effort to improve the effectiveness of Iraqi units in the field. The MiTT program attaches teams of 10 to 15 American soldiers to Iraqi units in an advisory and training capacity. A separate partnership program attaches Iraqi officers to American units with the goal of exposing Iraqis to both the organizational and tactical practices of U.S. forces.

When Coalition troops in Baghdad launched Operation Forward Together in the summer of 2006, Iraqi units simply failed to deploy. Yet the situation has been noticeably different this spring, and Iraqi forces have played a significant role in the ongoing Baghdad Security Plan. While charges of sectarian infiltration and corruption continue to plague the Iraqi police force, Iraqi army units have demonstrated their loyalty to the Iraqi state, a difference Kagan attributes to the superior recruiting and training models from which the country’s new army has benefited. “Combat performance is really the only standard by which the training and preparation of Iraqi forces can be evaluated,” Kagan told the Globalist. Recent engagements indicate that, though there is still room for improvement, current institutions are increasing the effectiveness of Iraqi forces.

The American military is rigorously trained to conquer its opponents. But having beaten the Iraqi army in 2003, the U.S. has found that success depends on its ability to rebuild the very institution it defeated. If Western forces can navigate cultural and political barriers, both Iraq and the U.S. will have the chance to create an institution— and a country’s future—anew.