June 10, 2005

Quote of the Day

"I know the party line. You know, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, five-star generals, four-star generals, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld: The Iraqis will be ready in whatever time period," said 1st Lt. Kenrick Cato, 34, of Long Island, N.Y., the executive officer of McGovern's company, who sold his share in a database firm to join the military full time after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "But from the ground, I can say with certainty they won't be ready before I leave. And I know I'll be back in Iraq, probably in three or four years. And I don't think they'll be ready then."

Much more in a (quite gloomy) Anthony Shadid dispatch on the state of 'train and equip'.

Don't miss this part of the article either:

Last month, three trucks filled with two dozen soldiers from Charlie Company were ambushed near a Tigris River bridge. Instead of meeting the attack, the Iraqis fled and radioed for help. The Americans said the Iraqis told them they had lost 20 men, had run out of ammunition and were completely surrounded.

When a U.S. quick reaction force arrived, the area was quiet and the Iraqi soldiers were huddled around their trucks. Four were missing; it was later learned that they had hailed taxis, gone home and changed into civilian clothes. One soldier, the company's senior noncommissioned officer, refused to come out for several hours, saying he continued to be surrounded by insurgents.

After the incident, McGovern said he summoned an interpreter, asked him to translate the soldier's words verbatim and "disgraced" the Iraqi soldiers.

"You are all cowards," he began. "My soldiers are over here, away from our families for a year. We are willing to die for you to have freedom. You should be willing to die for your own freedom. If you continue to run away from the enemy, the enemy will continue to chase you. You will never win."

McGovern asked the interpreter, Nabras Mohammed, if he had gone too far.

"Well, you shouldn't have called them women, and you shouldn't have called them" wimps, Mohammed told him.

"Of course they were scared," said Cpl. Idris Dhanoun, 30, a native of Baiji with two years in the security forces, who defended his colleagues. "The majority of them haven't seen fighting, they haven't seen war, they haven't been soldiers. The terrorists want to die. A hundred percent, they want to die. It's jihad. They want to kill themselves in the path of God."

Shortly after the ambush, a sniper shot a U.S. soldier standing on the roof of a police station, inflicting a severe head wound. The Americans suspected that the fire had come from the nearby Rahma mosque. American and Iraqi troops surrounded the building. Fearful of inflaming resentment, U.S. soldiers ordered their Iraqi counterparts to search the mosque. They initially refused, entering only after McGovern berated them.

"But I don't know if they searched it that well. They were still tip-toeing when they were in there," said Sgt. Cary Conner, 25, of Newport News, Va., who was among the first soldiers on the scene.

U.S. forces then ordered the Iraqis to arrest everyone inside the mosque, including the respected elderly prayer leader. The Iraqi platoon leader refused, U.S. soldiers recalled. The platoon leader and his men then sat down next to the mosque in protest.

"We wanted to tell the Americans they couldn't do this again," Dhanoun said.

In a measure of the shame they felt, the men insisted they had not entered the mosque.

"You can't enter the mosque with weapons. We have traditions, we have honor, and we're Muslims," Dhanoun said. "You enter the mosque to pray, you don't enter the mosque with guns."

At 4:30 a.m. Monday, the men of Charlie Company and the entire U.S. battalion -- some 800 soldiers -- set out in a convoy for west Baiji. The Americans used night-vision goggles to see in the dark. The Iraqis had glow sticks. Before the troops had left the base, an Iraqi driver plowed into a concrete barrier, momentarily delaying the convoy.

U.S. commanders said the involvement of the Iraqis on the mission -- a series of raids to crack a bomb-making cell -- was critical to its success. But the Americans clearly have lowered their expectations for the Iraqis' progress.

"Things are going to change according to their schedule, not our politics back home," said Sgt. Jonathan Flynn, 36, of Star Lake, N.Y. "You can't just put an artificial timetable on that."

No, you sure can't. As Glenn might quip, 'train and equip' is a process; not an event. Assuming we want around 200,000 fully trained Iraqi troops willing and able to fight anywhere in the country--I think we are still at least two-three years out from realizing that goal. If we're serious about doing it right, that is.

Posted by Gregory at June 10, 2005 10:29 AM | TrackBack (2)

You forgot to mention that the soldiers in the Iraqi unit were Sunnis. Things were good for Sunnis under Saddam. They resent the americans for taking away their easy street way of life. Not good soldier material apparently. They were the ones who ran Iraq for 30 years. How sad for Iraq.

Eventually Sunnis have to come to terms with their new status in Iraq. Otherwise Iraq will continue to make the Israeli/Palestinian conflict look like a church picnic.

WaPo intentionally chose the sh!tt!est unit possible to make their point. This unit is not representative of the Shia and Kurd units, which are the majority of troops in the Iraqi army.

WaPo is not credible as objective reporters. Anyone who quotes WaPo without disclaimers that point out the problems with the article loses credibility.

Posted by: Blowfly at June 10, 2005 05:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

the wapo followed a unit that the US military suggested(see article). now, maybe the Wapo requested a Sunni unit. I don't know. but i will say this. if Sunnis are not effectively integrated into the new Iraqi Army the chances of a civil war ratchet up significantly. that would be tantamount to an american defeat, even if we had hauled ass out of there by then (which i hope we wouldn't have). also, please evidence how the wapo intentionally picked the shitiest unit blowfly? are the U.S. military's P.R. guys that dumb, as they picked the unit?

Posted by: greg at June 10, 2005 05:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

if Sunnis are not effectively integrated into the new Iraqi Army the chances of a civil war ratchet up significantly.

Bingo. Also, bring law & order to the Sunni Triangle becomes much easier if it's policed by effective Sunni units.

On a related note, are there any measures (aside from the Pentagon's, which I don't trust) of what kind of progress is being made on the training of the Iraqi army?

Posted by: guy at June 10, 2005 06:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"You can't enter the mosque with weapons. We have traditions, we have honor, and we're Muslims," Dhanoun said. "You enter the mosque to pray, you don't enter the mosque with guns."

News to me.

Posted by: John Anderson at June 10, 2005 08:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, it's still just a piece of the puzzle, isn't it?

Yes, a Sunni-dominated unit patrolling in a Sunni-dominated area, made up of youths who joined for the money and who are with their families exposed to insurgent reprisal, is probably a good bet to be the weak link in the Iraqi military chain. One might have predicted that without reading confirmation in the Post.

What I question is the assumption that this is something that will just naturally fix itself if the United States is "serious" and commits to stay for however long it takes for a unit like this to become effective. Maybe this is two years, maybe three, maybe ten. The wisdom of the commitment is arguable is the assumption is right -- Iraq is, after all, one mid-sized country in a part of the world that is less important to the United States than East Asia, Latin America, Europe or the Indian subcontinent, and this isn't even considering demands on our resources at home. Suppose the assumption is wrong?

Look, a civil war would be a disaster for Iraqis. It would be an embarrassment for us. It certainly makes sense to try to reach out to the Sunni Arabs, bringing them in to the new political order. But the best way to avoid a civil war may be not to count on this. Any evolution of Iraqi politics will mark a grave reduction in the place of Sunni Arabs within the country relative to what it was under Saddam. There is just no way to avoid this. If we proceed with training and developing Iraqi forces, and the best units are all Shiites and Kurdish, that's the way it happens, and the chances of avoiding civil war will rest on whether it matters to the Sunni Arabs that they will lose.

Posted by: JEB at June 10, 2005 09:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I suspect there's some chicken and egg type of problems here, but this quote is also interesting:


Charlie Company disintegrated once after its commander was killed by a car bomb in December. And members of the unit were threatening to quit en masse this week over complaints that ranged from dismal living conditions to insurgent threats. Across a vast cultural divide, language is just one impediment. Young Iraqi soldiers, ill-equipped and drawn from a disenchanted Sunni Arab minority, say they are not even sure what they are fighting for. They complain bitterly that their American mentors don't respect them.


Are they poorly equipped? Are all the units? or just Charlie Company? I'm curious if there are different things we could do to improve morale? Build modern bases for the Iraqi soldiers and their families? I don't know, but there are some things to consider along those lines. Our troops can play basketball when they're off duty. Are the Iraqi troops too worried about their safety?

I'm not saying that we owe them this or anything like that, but if we're talking about hearts and minds, it seems the soldiers should be the ones we should focus on.

(my chicken and egg comment was about the lack of respect these guys perceive from our troops... they might not respect them because they can't hack it and vice versa...)

Posted by: just me at June 10, 2005 09:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For a 34-year-old lieutenant, Cato comes across in the quote as not very bright. The last five-star retired before he was born (and if Bradley wasn't dead yet he was getting pretty close). Credit the WaPo for finding a real sad sack--or the quote is a fabrication...

Posted by: Jem at June 10, 2005 10:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

something troubles me in the report.

it says the US troops ordered iraqi troops to search the mosque. why did this happen? aren't US troops there to help the army of a sovereign free nation such as iraq with a freely elected government? so do US troops - deployed abroad in a free country- have any right to order iraqi troops to do anything?

aren't iraqi troops accountable only to their government? if this is not the case how can we say that iraq is now a free country and not a country under foreign military occupation? how can you say that now iraq is "free"?

can somebody explain this to me seriously?

Posted by: zuavo at June 11, 2005 12:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm not an expert on the military, but I don't imagine our current troop level (factoring certain withdrawl of 3600 Polish, Ukranian, and Bulgarian soldiers, and possible British, Italian, and whoever withdrawl) is sustainable with recruiting numbers the way they are (and that's not even considering the change to the military brought by lowering standards, retaining bad apples, and emphasizing large bonuses). Plus, at some point casualties and the cycling out of veterans, even after stop-loss, will begin to really take a toll. Are we sure that staying another 2 years minimum can be accomplished in light of the change to the numbers and nature of our military? What are the consequences if we are wrong and there is no effective resolution to the insurgency and the violence? It seems to me that we cannot continue much longer on our current trajectory, but I'd love to find out why that's incorrect (for good or ill).

Posted by: SamAm at June 11, 2005 06:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Iraqi Security Force is a mixed bag. There is a good unit and there is bad unit. From my personal experience, I trust the 206th ING Battalion, but I would not go anywhere near the 18th Battalion. The same is true of American units.

Posted by: Minh-Duc at June 11, 2005 11:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

whattya expect?! the EXTANT iraqis are those who survived saddamism: they prize their lives over liberty. cowardice is deep in their blood.

it will tale time for this to change - as their lives INEVITABLY improve (because liberty CREATES abundance and prosperity), they will have more to protect and defend against the neojiadists.

then they will fight back.

Posted by: reliapundit at June 12, 2005 02:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The article was basically garbage. Sunni Muslims all the time turn mosques into weapons caches and fighting positions. So the statements by Saddam's former units are as self-serving as that of the "good Germans" who were "unaware" of the Holocaust.

Are Sunni units needed for Iraqi success? No. Sunnis are only 20% of the population, beset by tribalism, corruption, and abuse. Saddam made them the favored few and whipped up the already heady brew of corruption and violence to new levels. At some point they will simply have to accept their minority status, like the whites in South Africa and other former African colonies. Shia and Kurd units generally fight well with proper leadership.

The problem in training was covered by the WSJ. The problem was Saddam's Army was representative of the total failure of nearly all Arab Armies:


Money Quote: "A sergeant in the US Army has as much authority as a colonel in an Arab Army ... "

Saddam's soldiers were not allowed to show any individual or non-com initiative so as to keep any threat internally to the regime from developing. This is not good in combat which places a premium on unit loyalty and cohesion, initiative, adaptability, willingness to seek out the enemy and destroy him, counter-attacking, and good technical skills. Arab forces are generally good in ambush and maneuver, deception, but that's it. They rely on attrition and when that doesn't work they tend to get slaughtered.

Sadly, a blood bath is likely to happen, with Sunnis convinced that more banditry and tribalism can win the day, until the South and North combine ala Sherman and Grant to crush the much smaller Sunni tribal bandits who can set up ambushes but not combined arms which when restraints are thrown off (likely in Civil War) are deadly. This isn't btw unique to Iraq; Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, Algeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, West Africa, Congo, Uganda and other areas are afflicted with tribal banditry run wild.

The WSJ article said that US Army trainers had success with Shias or Kurds who had not picked up bad habits by serving in Saddam's military, and were willing to think and act for themselves instead of waiting for orders. They were willing to be leaders and turn into ambushes to defeat them, looked after and inspired loyalty among their troops.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at June 12, 2005 03:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"are the U.S. military's P.R. guys that dumb, as they picked the unit? "

Or are the US military on the ground deliberately trying to make the case that there is a long road ahead? Perhaps the US military on the ground is closer to Gregs view of things than to the Rummy-Cheney line? And so they directed the WaPo to a Sunni Arab deliberately?

Posted by: liberalhawk at June 13, 2005 04:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think the folks wondering about DoD "directing" media to units misunderstand. There are plenty of media over there, and DoD doesn't have the time or inclination to "police" them--they pretty much attempt to help with simple things (Reporter: "Hey, can you get me in touch with a unit training a Sunni-dominated Iraqi battalion?" Army Public Affairs Guy: "Sure, there's one right over there--the Captain running the US Team is Ted Jones.")

The media will write what they choose--even if it's a crock of bullsh--. DoD can't control them and won't try; they'll let these guys embarrass themselves if that's what they wish to do, then "clean up the mess" later as best they can.

Posted by: Jem at June 13, 2005 06:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

any answer to my previous question? is iraq now a free country?

Posted by: zuavo at June 15, 2005 11:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Compared to what?

Posted by: Cutler at June 15, 2005 10:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

oh, sorry, i didn't understand that "mission accomplished" meant that iraq is now a "relatively free" country

Posted by: zuavo at June 16, 2005 10:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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