Advising Iraqis: Building the Iraqi Army
If America agrees with President George W.
Bush that failure in Iraq is not an option, then the adviser mission
there will clearly be a long-term one. The new Iraqi Army (IA) will
need years to become equal to the challenge posed by a persistent
insurgent and terrorist threat, and U.S. support is essential to
this growth. Having spent a year assigned to the multi-National
security Transition command-Iraq (MNSTC-I) equipping and training
a new Iraqi armored brigade, I offer some recommendations to future
advisers as they take on the job of working with the IA to build
a professional and competent fighting force.
This article draws on my experience as the
senior adviser for the coalition military Assistance Training Team
(CMATT) charged with assisting the 2d Armored Brigade, 9th mechanized
Division, based 15 miles north of Baghdad in Taji, Iraq. When my
10-man team arrived in August 2005, the brigade was just beginning
to form. Equipped with the T-72 tank, the 2d Brigade was the only
armored brigade in the IA. Over the next 11 months, my team, along
with 4 other battalion-level teams, assisted in manning, equipping,
training, and employing this growing military organization. At the
end of my tour in June 2006, the 1700-man brigade had taken the
lead in its area of responsibility. I share the following observations
for future advisers.
First, appreciate the importance of the advisory
mission and understand the enormity of the task at hand. Iraqi officers
with whom I have spoken agree unanimously that a U.S. presence in
Iraq is absolutely essential to prevent catastrophic collapse of
the government and civil war. A vital element of this presence is
the Iraqi Adviser group (IAG), which is tasked to coach and guide
the IA toward self-sufficiency. While the new Iraqi government struggles
to become autonomous, there is just no competent institution other
than the IA that can prevent anarchy. But the dismantling of the
old IA in 2003 left little to reconstruct, so multi-national forces
have been forced to reconstitute a new IA from scratch. The wisdom
of the dissolution of the old army is not at issue here; it is the
consequences of this decision that advisers must comprehend to appreciate
the full scope of their challenge.
Next, make an effort to understand the Iraqi
soldiers; cultivate a respect for their culture. Each American adviser
starts with great credibility in terms of military expertise, and
the Iraqis believe that we can do anything if we put our minds to
it. With a measure of humility and cultural sensitivity, each adviser
can use this perception to great advantage building the new Iraqi
Finally, understand that the relationship among
the Iraqi unit, the advisers, and the partner unit can be contentious,
so as you work with your Iraqi unit, foster your relationship with
the coalition partners as well. The coalition is charged with building
the IA to stand on its own so that eventually it can be self-sustaining.
But it's tough to simultaneously conduct combat operations against
insurgents while providing training opportunities for the Iraqis,
and the friction among all the organizations involved can inhibit
the Iraqi unit's growth.
The Adviser's Challenges
By disbanding the old IA, the United States
accepted responsibility for replacing an institution that was both
respected and feared throughout Iraq. Saddam could count on his
army to maintain control against internal dissent, as evidenced
by the effective suppression of large-scale rebellions in the north
and south during the 1990s. Iron discipline was the norm under Saddam.
The lowliest lieutenant could expect instant obedience and extreme
deference from his soldiers. Today's army is very different. Unlike
Saddam's, the new army serves the cause of freedom, and officers
and soldiers alike are a bit confused about what this means.
Recruiting, retaining and accountability. One
of the most critical tasks for the army is recruiting and retaining
soldiers. Soldiers are under no effective contract, and they always
have the option to leave the service. As of this writing, the only
power holding them is the promise of a paycheck (not always delivered)
and a sense of duty. Good soldiers leave after receiving terrorist
threats against their families. Less dutiful soldiers fail to show
up for training if they think it will be too hard. In areas where
the duty is difficult and deadly, unit AWOL rates approach 40 percent.
The old IA executed deserters unhesitatingly; the new army watches
powerlessly as soldiers walk away from their posts, knowing full
well that the army has no real means to punish them.
I believe that many of the officers join because
they have a great sense of duty and want to save their country from
chaos. They have assumed roles in the new IA at great personal risk.
In my brigade alone, the litany of personal tragedy grew with depressing
regularity. The commander's brother was kidnapped and killed. The
deputy commander's cousins, hired to protect his family, were found
murdered and stacked up on his doorstep with a note saying he was
next. Two of four battalion commanders had to move their families
because of death threats. A deputy battalion commander's son was
kidnapped and has not been found. Staff officers, soldiers, and
interpreters spoke of murdered relatives or told harrowing personal
stories of close calls with terrorists.
Iraqi soldiers and officers are making a daily
choice between continuing to invest in the new government and opting
out to focus on making the best of possible anarchy. Without steadfast
American support, these officers and soldiers will likely give up
and consider the entire effort a lost cause. Until the government
and its security forces become more competent, this will be a risk.
Personnel accountability is another issue,
but not so much for the Iraqis as for the Americans. The Iraqis
are horrendous at keeping track of their soldiers. There are no
routine accountability formations, and units typically have to wait
until payday to get a semi-accurate picture of who is assigned to
the unit. Because Iraqi status reports are almost always wrong,
American advisers have taken to counting soldiers at checkpoints
to get a sense of where combat power is distributed.
IA motivation. In addition, Iraqi commanders
are reluctant to deploy a robust percentage of their combat power
outside the wire. In one instance, coalition partners and advisers
to 2d Brigade observed with alarm that a 550-man infantry battalion
could only put about 150 soldiers in the battlespace at any given
time. Initially, American advisers tried to increase deployed strength
by securing copies of the daily status report and questioning why
so few soldiers were on mission. We sat down with the Iraqi commanders
and highlighted the dismal statistics in an effort to embarrass
them into doing better. We attempted to get the Iraqis to enforce
a ministry of Defense (MOD) policy that allowed no more than 25
percent of the unit to be on leave. We developed PowerPoint(r) slides
that depicted the number of combat platoons on security missions
and asked about the status of uncommitted platoons. Using another
metric to illustrate how the numbers just did not add up, advisers
counted combat vehicles on mission. This sustained effort led to
no noticeable improvement. The Iraqis believed they were meeting
mission. They did not perceive their allocation of manpower to be
It was not until 2d Brigade was poised to take
the lead in its area of operations (AO) that advisers witnessed
a new approach to making the maximum use of available combat power.
When they started planning their first independent operation, one
of the Iraqi battalion commanders and the brigade staff worked together
to devise a plan that allocated a significant amount of combat power
to the mission. While some of this power was reallocated from current
operations, a fair percentage was new combat power finally getting
into the fight. Clearly when the Iraqi commander believed in the
mission, he would find the forces to make it happen. Still fighting
the last war. Another challenge is that the IA's tactics are outmoded.
They are still fighting their last war, the high-intensity Iran-Iraq
War of the 1980s, a war with clear battle lines fought with mass
military formations, and one in which civilians on the battlefield
were a nuisance, not the center of gravity.
Future advisers would be wise to study this
war, an 8-year conflagration with a total casualty count of over
1.5 million. Large-scale attacks and huge battles were the rule.
Iranian human-wave assaults presented Iraqi soldiers with a target-rich
environment. I heard many stories of battlefields covered with bodies
following huge expenditures of ammunition. The T-72 tank was considered
extremely effective, but required infantry to keep Iranian soldiers
from leaping onto them to deliver grenades. Iraqi officers claim
the battles against the Americans of 1991 and 2003 were aberrations,
whose outcomes they attributed to U.S. air power and huge technological
overmatch. They continue to take great pride in their accomplishments
in "defeating Iranian aggression."
Accordingly, at the tactical level, officers
and soldiers from the old army are inclined to try to solve current,
low-intensity tactical problems using the techniques of the 1980s.
I frequently heard the refrain that if the Americans would only
"turn them loose," the Iraqis would defeat the insurgency
in short order. But Iraqi commanders are reluctant to put tanks
in an urban environment because the close quarters give excellent
opportunities for insurgents armed with rocket propelled grenades.
They refuse to split up three-tank platoons because it has been
ingrained in them to never subdivide below this level.
Iraqi soldiers tend to react under fire as
though they are in a large-scale attack. They must learn fire discipline
and careful target selection in a battlefield filled with noncombatants.
Unfortunately, the Iraqi "death blossom" is a common tactic
witnessed by nearly every U.S. soldier who has spent any time outside
the wire. Any enemy attack on the IA, whether mortar, sniper, or
an improvised explosive device, provokes the average Iraqi soldier
to empty his 30 round magazine and fire whatever belt of ammunition
happens to be in his machine-gun. Ninety percent of the time, there
is no target, and the soldiers always agree that this is extremely
dangerous, in addition to being a grievous waste of ammunition.
But they continue to do it.
A similar phenomenon occurs when Iraqis react
to the death of a comrade on the battlefield. The reaction is very
dramatic. I once observed overwrought Iraqi soldiers start to rampage
through a civilian community, an event that could have been tragic
if an adviser had not stepped in to stop it. At another time, an
enemy sniper attack triggered a reaction that had Iraqis "returning
fire" nearly 90 minutes after the enemy had delivered one deadly
shot. This "burst reaction" may be attributed to Iraqis
experiencing denial, anger, and grief all at the same time. Still,
although they react strongly to the loss of a friend or loved one,
grim repetition seems to allow them to move on rather quickly.
At the operational level, the Iraqis do not
fully grasp the importance of multiple lines of operation, to include
governance, infrastructure, and the economy. Their tool of choice
is the blunt instrument of force directed liberally at all threats,
real and perceived. The IA disdains working with civilians-the 60-division
Saddam-era army had no need to ask for cooperation. Many Iraqis
assured me that the local sheik is always responsible for whatever
happens in the area under his control. Under Saddam, if any trouble
occurred, the sheik and his entire family would be sent to jail
with no questions asked. And jail in Iraq was an unpleasant place.
Iraqi leaders understand our reverence for the rule of law in theory,
but not in practice. For example, they have difficulty understanding
why we treat detainees so well and why so many are released back
into society. Under Saddam, the army did not have to worry about
winning hearts and minds. Force and fear worked well to ensure domestic
This is not a good model for the current low
intensity counterinsurgency (COIN) operation, and it complicates
the mission of helping the Iraqis defeat insurgents. The new IA
must learn to fight using strategies and tactics far different than
those used in the past and largely alien to the new army. Officers
below the grade of lieutenant colonel are good at following orders
but less comfortable at initiating and planning the small-unit operations
required in COIN. Overall, the new generation of soldiers and officers
is slowly learning the difference between serving their country
and serving a dictator, but it is clear that the process of adopting
more effective tactics, techniques, and procedures is clearly going
to take some time.
Infrastructure. Some aspects of building a
new army can be overcome relatively quickly. The MOD will soon make
routine a system to recruit, train, and distribute new soldiers.
The National maintenance Contract will open up the flow of spare
parts from eager foreign suppliers. Soldier pay should soon become
a reason that soldiers stay in the Army instead of a constant source
of frustration that has driven many out.
Other advances will take more time. The nascent
system of schools and training centers should evolve into a coordinated
network that ensures military competence and professionalism. Regional
support centers will need time to establish an effective Iraqi logistics
system. Personnel management agencies will improve to reduce distractions
and allow commanders to make the most of their available manpower.
In the meantime, advisers and U.S. support provide critical credibility
while these systems become viable.
Know the Soldiers, Know the Culture
We must be careful when making broad generalizations
about working with Iraqis. The 2d Brigade commander once held up
his hand with fingers extended to make the point that, like the
varying lengths of his fingers, people come with different strengths
and weaknesses: each of us is unique. Nevertheless, it helps for
advisers to be aware that they aren't working in Kansas, or Georgia,
or Texas. In other words, it is good to know the soldiers and the
Relationships. Iraqis value relationships more
than results. They will interrupt a conversation, no matter how
important, to pleasantly greet someone who has entered a meeting
room late or unannounced. Their reputation for not wanting to recognize
misconduct or failure is well earned. (Advisers have found that
photographic evidence is essential to achieve a constructive after-action
Ingenuity. Economic sanctions and austerity
have made the Iraqis outstanding improvisers. We witnessed an Iraqi
sergeant working to improve the appearance of his new brigade headquarters.
Lacking a paint brush, he was applying red paint to decorative fence
posts with his bare hands. In a later upgrade, the commander had
his men use purple metal headboards from surplus bed parts to line
the sidewalk, creating an appealing approach to his building. Because
beds seemed to be in excess across post, his example spurred many
Iraqis also display great ingenuity with maintenance
operations. A maintenance adviser for one of the tank battalions
told me with pride how his unit mechanics were doing "direct
support level work with less-than-organizational-level tools,"
which is like removing a tank engine using a hoist and an off-the-shelf
tool kit from Wal-Mart. When we conducted a routine check of a traffic
control point, an IA company commander demonstrated how his men
had changed an engine head gasket on site. This expertise and can-do
spirit extends to finer work as well. One mechanic fixed a complex
traversing and elevating unit using only pliers and a coat hanger.
In certain endeavors, the Iraqis definitely illustrate the cliche_,
"If there's a will, there's a way."
Fatalism. Iraqis tend to be fatalistic, surrendering
their future to the will of Allah. This explains how they can continue
to function despite daily car bombings, atrocities, and murders
that have touched nearly every family. When my Iraqi friends returned
from leave, I always asked them about their "vacation."
(It is one of the phrases I have memorized in Arabic.) About 30
percent of the time, they had some bad news to relate: a kidnapped
cousin, a death threat, or a bombing near their home. After we commiserated
about the event, the Iraqi typically ended by saying "Allah
Kareem" ("god is generous"). This was not really
stoicism, because it was sometimes accompanied by tears. It did,
however, show that Iraqis feel far less in control of events than
the average American does.
For Americans, the most frustrating aspect
of this fatalism is that it translates into a lack of diligence
and detailed planning. Iraqis eschew operational calendars and typically
forecast little beyond the next 48 to 72 hours. One example of this
lack of regard for planning occurred prior to the handing over of
operations to the 2d Brigade. The American commander's battle rhythm
included representation at local government meetings each week.
When the Iraqis took charge of this schedule, they continually re-tasked
responsibility for attendance, selected officers at random to attend
and take notes, and generally failed to make the most of this opportunity
to engage local leaders. The morning operations and intelligence
update, a staple at every American tactical operation center (TOC)
and an opportunity to synchronize operations, usually drew only
token Iraqi attendance.
To their credit, the Iraqis almost always made
mission, but it was typically not to the standard that Americans
expect. When fellow advisers complained about how the Iraqis would
fritter away opportunities by failing to plan, I encouraged them
to persevere. If repeated often enough, at least some of our advice
eventually had an effect. But to reduce frustration, I would also
tell them, "remember, we're in Iraq!"
Reacting versus planning. Failing to plan does
not necessarily mean laziness. It just means that Iraqis prefer
to "react to contact" and make things happen when they
have to. Soon after the Samarra mosque bombing on 22 February 2006,
the government of Iraq called on the new armored brigade to send
a battalion task force into Baghdad to assist in controlling sectarian
violence that threatened to devolve into civil war. A warning order
came to the unit leaders around noon on a Sunday, and the official
order was issued at about 1800. American planners were busy requesting
a 24-hour delay to facilitate detailed planning, but the Iraqis
were assembling a task force for movement. As the advisers scrambled
to prepare teams to accompany them, the Iraqi commanders were issuing
orders and checking load plans. At about 0200 Monday morning, the
first company left the motor pool on its way to the link-up point.
Between 0530 and 0845, 3 companies totaling 11 BMPs (Russian armored
vehicles) and 19 tanks had rolled into separate operating bases
to report to 3 different brigades of the Iraqi 6th division. I accompanied
one of the tank companies. Upon arrival, I asked where the soldiers
could bed down for a couple of hours to get some sleep. The Iraqi
commander replied that the tankers would be going directly into
the city; a short time to refuel and conduct maintenance was all
that could be afforded. By 1130 that morning, all elements of the
armored task force were in positions around the city of Baghdad,
providing a powerful symbol of the growing strength of the IA. Over
the next 12 days, Iraqis watched with pride as their tanks and BMPs
were a daily fixture on the evening news.
Bottom line. Advisers are most effective when
they can approach Iraqis with a measure of humility, appreciating
Iraqi strengths while acknowledging their weaknesses. Iraqis will
return the level of respect that we accord them.
Getting the Relationships Right
Do not try to do too much with your own hands.
Better the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly. It is
their war, and you are here to help them, not win it for them. Actually,
also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work
will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is. It might take
longer, and it might not be as good as you think, but if it is theirs
it will be better. -T.E. Lawrence, "Twenty-seven Articles,"
Arab Bulletin, 20 August 1917 <text>This quotation, displayed
at biweekly meetings of senior leaders and advisers to the Iraqi
security forces (ISF) in the multi-National Division, Baghdad (MND-B)
AO, offers today's advisers a great example to emulate. Clearly,
the job of creating long-term order and prosperity in Iraq is in
the hands of the Iraqis. Any casual observer of American politics
can understand that. Moreover, we know that Iraqi leaders do their
best work when they feel ownership of a course of action.
Problematic command relationships. The command
relationships among the IAG advisers, the Iraqi unit, and the coalition
partner unit are problematic. The partner unit is normally a U.S.
brigade which has responsibility for an AO within one of the multi-national
commands. The IAG advises Iraqi units that operate in the partner
unit's battlespace. But neither the IAG nor the Iraqi unit have
a formal command relationship with the partner unit. Iraqi units
have their own chain of command, and are not part of the coalition.
One of the most frustrating points of friction
I observed was caused by mistaken beliefs about the latter. Many
U.S. commanders thought that the Iraqi force was part of the coalition
and OIF was another exercise in coalition warfare. Numerous examples
demonstrate how this misunderstanding created confusion and discord:
An Iraqi platoon leader refusing to participate in a combined patrol
because he had not received an order from his battalion commander;
Iraqi patrols leaving their assigned area to respond to an MOD order
to escort a convoy from Baghdad to Taji; an Iraqi brigade commander
ordering a squad to remain in an ambush position, effectively masking
a U.S. unit that had already occupied a position nearby; and Iraqi
soldiers refusing to follow American orders to search a mosque until
the order was cleared by an Iraqi division commander. In all of
these examples, the U.S. commander had operational control of Iraqi
units, but the Iraqi chain of command was leaning forward to take
charge before it was designated for official command and control
functions. While the American commander's first impulse was to be
furious with the Iraqis, from the perspective of building new units,
there was clearly good news in this evidence of a strengthening
Iraqi chain of command.
Although the coalition units and IA units do
not share chains of command, U.S. platoon leaders in the partner
units are required to conduct combined (Iraqi and U.S.) operations
in order to improve the IA unit's combat readiness. The intent is
that the experienced, well-trained U.S. units will train Iraqis
in troop-leading procedures, the orders process, and mission execution
for an operation, but all too often the combined operation consists
of a "drive-by" pick-up of an Iraqi squad while the U.S.
unit is on the way to the objective. This puts an Iraqi face in
the crowd, but does little to develop a capable ISF.
Strategy and tactics at odds. for some time
now, building the new ISF has been the strategic main effort in
Iraq. Pentagon pronouncements emphasize placing Iraqis in the lead.
Nearly every mission statement I saw in theater referred to "developing
capable ISF" as an essential task. At the tactical level, however,
brigade and battalion commanders must necessarily concentrate their
time, talent, and resources on fighting insurgents. This was clearly
the case in my experience during Operation Iraqi freedom (OIF) III
and IV. The MND-B AO, for one, is still too dangerous for tactical
commanders to focus on training the IA at the expense of security,
which leaves the heavy lifting of building the new ISF to Iraqi
commanders and their advisers. This arrangement can work only if
the U.S. force provides enough stability to allow the Iraqis to
train and practice tactics, techniques and procedures inside and
outside the wire.
Culture trumping mission. Another problem plaguing
the strategy is that it's unnatural for U.S. soldiers to step back
and allow their Iraqi partners to take the lead when the soldiers
think they can do it more efficiently and quickly. From private
to colonel, the American soldier is task-oriented, and even the
most experienced advisers forget that our real charge is to train
the Iraqis so that they can do the job. I once saw an adviser developing
a PowerPoint(r) "storyboard" depicting a significant action
that had occurred with an IA unit. I asked him if he was working
with his Iraqi counterpart to put it together. He replied that it
would "take four times as long to do it that way." This
same thinking prevails in combined operations centers, where American
battle captains have a tendency to tell their Iraqi counterparts
what to do, rather than allowing them to work through the planning
and decision making process.
This is the wrong approach. Eventually Iraqi
officers will have to make their own judgment calls and handle complex
situations without U.S. support. We must improve their planning
skills and strengthen their chain of command at every opportunity.
Iraqi leaders should chair meetings with local leaders and the units
should handle tactical situations to the limits of their capability.
We must constantly find ways to put the IA in front while making
sure they are prepared to succeed.
Disparity of capability. The great disparity
in capability between U.S. and IA units also works against the IA
training effort. It takes a 2,000-man Iraqi brigade to take over
an AO formerly controlled by a 600-strong U.S. battalion, and even
then there is a drop in capability. There are many reasons for this
_ The U.S. work ethic is second to none-especially
when soldiers are deployed far from home and can focus 100 percent
on getting the job done. Arab culture, on the other hand, is much
less focused on the clock; it takes the long view that everything
will happen in due time, "in shah-Allah" ("god willing").
_ The IA is not rotating units into the AO;
rotation off the line consists of a liberal leave schedule that
reduces the force by 20 to 30 percent at any given time.
_ The American military is probably the most
thoroughly trained force in the world, but Iraqi soldiers make do
with 3 to 5 weeks of basic training before entering the battlespace.
Most IA units rely on experienced former soldiers to make up for
immature training programs. This new IA must fight as it forms and
grows. The Iraqi brigade I advised went from initial soldier reception
to independent operations with coalition support in a mere 10 months.
_ American staffs are huge, and a host of technological
tools facilitate situational awareness. The battle captain in a
brigade combat team (BCT) runs a TOC shift of 15 officers and soldiers
while his Iraqi counterpart typically has 2 radio operators and
a cell phone to call the commander. Iraqi officers are amazed when
they enter a U.S. brigade command post; they are awed by the buzz
of activity and big-screen displays. The contrast between the well-funded,
professional U.S. Army and the fledging Iraqi volunteer force is
huge. An adviser who does not keep this in mind is likely to unfairly
denigrate his Iraqi counterpart and do poorly in coaching him. A
U.S. commander who ignores this disparity is likely to paralyze
the Iraqi TOC by demanding the same level of information from them
that he expects from his own TOC.
In spite of these disparities, in less than
one year the 2d Armored Brigade received and distributed all combat
equipment, soldier uniforms, and even barracks furniture while simultaneously
conducting individual and small-unit training. The brigade did this
even though officer fill remained at 50 percent or less during the
first 5 months and present-for duty status suffered from the aforementioned
leave policy. Moreover, the brigade now takes the lead on operations
within its AO, suffering casualties and fighting the enemy alongside
its American partners. Coalition partners and advisers share in
this accomplishment because they have allowed the IA to perform
while taking pains to shield them from failure. They will have to
do so for some time to ensure continued progress.
Distractions of combat. Some friction between
advisers and U.S. tactical commanders is inevitable. Advisers know
firsthand that preparing a brand-new army in Iraq requires patience,
flexible expectations, and compromise, but U.S. tactical commanders
are busy fighting insurgents; they have little time to meet with
their Iraqi brothers-in-arms, to debate tactics, or to concern themselves
with the IA's administrative problems. It doesn't help that, at
times, adviser teams require augmentation from the U.S. unit of
10 to 25 soldiers per battalion to accomplish tactical missions.
Some commanders see this requirement as a wasteful drain on their
resources. Then there is the burdensome requirement to train Iraqi
units during combat operations. This effort involves pesky translation
issues and tiresome distractions; it is easier to conduct a U.S.
only mission than to go through the pain of turning a combat mission
into an Iraqi training event. While the U.S. Army's reputation for
being task-oriented is well earned and one of our greatest strengths,
it becomes an impediment when the essential task is to cede mission
accomplishment to the Iraqis.
Signs of change. The differing emphases between
OIF III (which ended January 2006) and OIF IV demonstrated that
American commanders were definitely improving in their ability to
support Iraqis in the lead. In November 2005, an OIF III brigade
commander staunchly defended his formal authority over Iraqi formations
by refusing an IA division commander's request to allow a company
team to participate in a ceremony marking a donation of NATO armored
vehicles. During preparation for the December election, this same
colonel emphasized that "if we want our Iraqi units to play
in our battlespace, they better be ready." from the operational
standpoint this stance made sense; the colonel clearly wanted either
reliable troops or none at all. But from the strategic standpoint
of developing a capable ISF, he missed the mark. The opportunity
to get IA soldiers into the fight was worth every bit of lost military
During OIF IV, after the sea-change directing
that Iraqis be put in the lead, U.S. commanders deferred to the
"Iraqi solution" from MOD down to the company level. As
the 2d Brigade took over its AO in may 2006, the U.S. commander
respected the Iraqi commander's prerogatives. Although misunderstandings
continued to occur, the overall direction was very positive, thus
reinforcing the Iraqi chain of command.
It would be naive to think that the problems
between advisers and partner units have been solved. Some friction
will inevitably persist. But both groups must find a way to put
the Iraqis in the lead; otherwise, the Iraqi dependence on U.S.
forces will continue. Good relations between advisers and the partner
unit are essential to mitigate adviser commander problems. Advisers
must be nearly as proactive in educating their U.S. partners as
they are in working with their Iraqi counterparts, but the partner
unit must be willing to participate. During my year in Iraq, I worked
with two American brigade commanders. The first preferred not to
deal with advisers, and I was unsuccessful in establishing any semblance
of a constructive relationship with him. The second commander was
far more focused on making advisers and Iraqis part of his team.
I was invited to participate in morning net calls designed to improve
situational awareness and address outstanding issues. In addition,
periodic meetings between the American commander and his Iraqi counterpart
were extremely productive.
Moderate Iraqis are taking great risks to build
their country and defend it against those who choose anarchy, extremism,
or a Saddam-style dictatorship. When I asked an Iraqi deputy brigade
commander if he was optimistic about the future, he responded that
security was the first imperative and the most difficult condition
to achieve. Once the Iraqi government provides security, he said,
then everything to follow will be easy. He argued that the Iraqi
people do not expect much from their government because the vast
majority had received little during 35 years under Saddam.
As American military forces begin to pull back,
Iraqi forces will become more central to establishing a safe and
secure Iraq. U.S. advisers are critical partners in this mission.
They provide expertise and, more important, reassurance that the
forces for democracy and moderation have a powerful ally at their
side. Advisers who approach this important mission with a constructive
attitude and a willingness to put Iraqis in the lead will make important
and satisfying contributions to this effort. I personally consider
my year in Iraq as the most significant of my 22 years in the Army.
Despite low approval ratings and doubters back
home, President Bush might just be correct about establishing a
free and democratic Iraq in the center of the strategic Middle East.
My Iraqi friends yearn for a day when their children can enjoy peace
and prosperity in a country that has no excuse for being poor. The
current generation understands that they are paying the price now
so that future generations can enjoy what has so far been denied.
The land of the two rivers, brimming with untapped
oil resources, can surely become a shining example that elevates
the region above its history of perpetual conflict. Of course, the
future holds more senseless killings and strategic setbacks. The
enemy is determined and will continue to go to any length to frustrate
freedom. But the process of gaining control while battling the insurgency
must continue even as the entire world debates the wisdom of the
effort. This mission is a significant challenge for the most powerful
military in the world; it will exceed the capability of this new
IA for some time to come. But no great undertaking has ever come
easy. Current and potential partners participating in OIF should
keep this in mind as they continue the important work suggested
by the mission's name.
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