BAGHDAD - Iraq Infantry School instructors led a two-day Basic 81mm Mortar Course live-fire exercise at the Besmaya Combat Training Center as part of the culminating exercise to a 21-day course in late November 2010.

The 81mm mortar is an indirect-fire weapon consisting of a four components - barrel, sight, bipod, and base plate.

During the exercise, infantry Soldiers from the Iraqi Army's 1st, 11th and 17th divisions fired high-explosive anti-tank and white phosphorous smoke rounds.

"We train infantry Soldiers here to use indirect fire, so they can go back to their units and use these weapons to help the Iraqi Army fight terrorism," said Iraqi Army Capt. Osama Muhammed Jwad, officer in charge of the Basic Mortar Course. "These weapons will be used against insurgents."

Indirect fire support in the form of mortars is part of the infantry skill set. The Basic 81mm Mortar Course qualifies Iraqi Army Soldiers to use the weapon for conventional ground conflicts, and to combat interior threats within Iraq's borders.

"The weapon can be used against insurgents within our country or against any neighboring countries that assault or attack our country," said Iraqi Army Sgt. Dhia Kadhum Ibraheem, Iraq Infantry School instructor at the Kirkush Military Training Base in Iraq's Diyala province.

Iraqi Army instructors, who have trained with coalition forces in Serbia and trained with United States Forces-Iraq advisors at the BCTC, planned and conducted the course.

"This is a very important sign that the Iraqi Army has developed skills enough to train autonomous," Osama said.

"We focus on accuracy and being quick; it is most important for any type of indirect-fire offensive," Dhia said.

The 81mm mortar can hit the targets from long range quickly, Dhia said. It's versatile; the high explosive ammo can destroy vehicles, paralyze enemy movement and open gaps in obstacles. An illumination round can light up the range or a smoke round can be used to obscure an objective.

This weapon is important for the Iraqi Army, because it supports infantry units.

The Iraq Infantry School also conducts courses on such weapons and tactics as the M-16 and M4 carbine rifles, the 9mm automatic pistol, the Rocket Propelled Grenade-7, sniper training, convoy training, and buildings clearance.

The Iraqi Army infantry Soldier's job is to be versatile, from maintaining checkpoints to apprehending insurgents, Osama said.

"You have to be educated to use math, read and write grid coordinates to fire accurately, and you have to be strong to carry this heavy weapon," Dhia said.

The average weight of an 81mm mortar weapons system can range from roughly 75-95 pounds.

Students worked in teams of four - a gunner, gunner's assistant, ammunition bearer and base plate carrier. They also maintained dialogue over a radio with instructors and an observer in the tower, who was able to observe the target.

Students said they learned a great deal and enjoyed sending rounds downrange for the first time.

"I'm improving my skills to defend my country," said Iraqi Army Pvt. Hosain Qasem, of the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Infantry Division. "I learned a lot about fire direction center, how to put together and dismantle this weapon and how to direct a mortar to the target for effective fire."

After a student comes here for a live-fire exercise, he'll have more courage to use the 81mm mortar in combat, Dhia said.

"I am highly confident in myself in using the weapon and accurately hitting the target a high percentage," Hosain said.

Editor's note: Menegay is a member of the Ohio Army National Guard's 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment attached to the U.S. Forces-Iraq Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training Public Affairs Office.