August 15, 2005

Repeat After Me: The New Iraqi Army Officers Corps Must Be (Convicingly) Multi-Ethnic/Sectarian

I get regularly chastised in comments for having the temerity to suggest that any new Iraqi Army must have a cohesive, ethnically diverse leadership/officer corps. Who cares about such trifles, the commenting more or less goes? Apparently I'm not alone in thinking this is critical. Witness Henry Kissinger:

What is the real combat effectiveness of Iraqi security forces, and against what kind of dangers? To what extent are the Iraqi forces penetrated by insurgents? How will Iraqi forces react to insurgent blackmail -- for example, if a general's son is kidnapped? What is the role of infiltration from neighboring countries? How can it be defeated?

Experience in Vietnam suggests that the effectiveness of local forces is profoundly affected by the political framework. South Vietnam had about 11 divisions, two in each of the four corps areas and three others constituting a reserve. In practice, only the reserve forces could be used throughout the country. The divisions defending the provinces in which they were stationed and from which they were recruited were often quite effective. They helped defeat the North Vietnamese offensive in 1972. When moved into a different and unfamiliar corps area, however, they proved far less steady. This was one of the reasons for the disasters of 1975.

The Iraqi equivalent may well be the ethnic and religious antagonisms between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. In Vietnam, the effectiveness of forces depended on geographic ties, but the provinces did not perceive themselves in conflict with each other. In Iraq, each of the various ethnic and religious groupings sees itself in an irreconcilable, perhaps mortal, confrontation with the others. Each group has what amounts to its own geographically concentrated militia. In the Kurdish area, for example, internal security is maintained by Kurdish forces, and the presence of the national army is kept to a minimum, if not totally prevented. The same holds true to a substantial extent in the Shiite region.

Is it then possible to speak of a national army at all? Today the Iraqi forces are in their majority composed of Shiites, and the insurrection is mostly in traditional Sunni areas. It thus foreshadows a return to the traditional Sunni-Shiite conflict, only with reversed capabilities. These forces may cooperate in quelling the Sunni insurrection. But will they, even when adequately trained, be willing to quell Shiite militias in the name of the nation? Do they obey the ayatollahs, especially Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, or the national government in Baghdad?

And if these two entities are functionally the same, can the national army make its writ run in non-Shiite areas except as an instrument of repression? And is it then still possible to maintain a democratic state?

The ultimate test of progress will therefore be the extent to which the Iraqi armed forces reflect -- at least to some degree -- the ethnic diversity of the country and are accepted by the population at large as an expression of the nation. Drawing Sunni leaders into the political process is an important part of an anti-insurgent strategy. Failing that, the process of building security forces may become the prelude to a civil war.

This won't stop all the 'Don's the Man!' gaggles from spouting off on how we've got some 170,000 plus men all teed up and ready to take the fight to the enemy. Still, I just thought I'd pass this on...serious people think a multi-ethnic Iraqi national army, you know, matters. Oh, and please note: such an army won't convincingly be up and running by late '06.

Posted by Gregory at August 15, 2005 03:32 PM | TrackBack (1)

dons not the man.

Glad thats out of the way.

1. It seems youre at least being a little clearer about what you mean by a multiethnic officer corps. You mean there have to be enough Sunni Arab officers to get enough Sunni arabs to trust the army, and also enough to take on the Shiite militias.

Well, as to the second half, im not sure. Even Shiite officers have to be loyal enough to the national govt to take on Shiite militias. If they are, the militia is through. If theyre not, having alot of Sunni officers wont be enough. And more important is the political will at the center to take on the militias, and having political support in the provinces.

More relevant then is the having sunni officers to win over the sunni arabs in the triangle. Yes, but how many, and at what levels? Can only Sunni officers operate in the triangle, or will units with 20% Sunni arab officers be enough? How about 10%? Are we talking regimental officer and noncoms, or generals? Are Sunni arab officers as important as Sunni arab cabinet members? BTW, the defence minister is a sunni arab.

How does the advantage of Sunni arab officers, weigh against the risks of infiltration, given the Baathist backgrounds of many Sunni arab ex-officers?

Currently there are Iraqi forces in control of Sunni areas such as west mosul, and parts of west baghdad. What are the compositions of their officers, and what effect is that having on day to day operations?

Posted by: liberalhawk at August 15, 2005 08:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The ultimate test of progress will therefore be the extent to which the Iraqi armed forces reflect -- at least to some degree -- the ethnic diversity of the country and are accepted by the population at large as an expression of the nation. Drawing Sunni leaders into the political process is an important part of an anti-insurgent strategy"

pardon, but this seems to be about the political process, and the guidance and use of the army, more than about the numerical composition of the officer corps.

Posted by: liberalhawk at August 15, 2005 08:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's how it works guys. Shiites run the IA,or Kurds run mostly Kurd formations(36 commando). They work seperately,they are corrupt to the bone,there is nothing we can do to change this. An excellent battalion commander is fired and a mediocrity takes his place,guess what group was fired and which one took over? Kurd and Shiite,that's right. Happened in Diyala Province recently. Personal knowledge.

You are thinking as if Iraq had the culture of the west,it does NOT,it is exceptionally corrupt,it is sectarian,the Shiites are roughnecks with Sunnis relative to US soldiers coming in contact with them.

The idea(I fell for it,too)that they could have an open,rule of law democracy was not realistic. The charge that we have exchanged Saddam's rule for an equally bad Shiite rule is not fair,but it is not entirely wrong.

Shiites replaced Sunnis in much the same games of skimming cash from recruits for jobs,etc. It may be the Shiites will be somewhat countered by the Kurds,I think it is most important that Iraq will not be our dedicated enemy in the future now,but Iraq is not a nice place under any conditions. There is a general lack of national character we cannot control there fellows.

Posted by: Patrick at August 16, 2005 12:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The premise that the army is the key to stability is the problem here. Restoring security to Iraq is primarily a matter of police work and police by their nature must be local and not outsiders.

Sunni Arab police should be able to call on Sunni paramilitary troops if local insurgents take a stand and exceed the firepower of the regular police. The army should not be needed. Kurdish and Shia militias should be transferred to local police forces, not integrated into the army. There could continue to be tension in the police between loyalty to party vs. loyalty to state, but this will be an issue within each major group and not between them.

The proper role of an army is to provide external defense. Multi-ethnic unity for external defense should not be as difficult to achieve, particularly if troops are based in the areas from which they are drawn. The Iraqi army should be organized for this purpose, with the police separately organized on local lines to deal directly with the insurgency.

Posted by: David Billington at August 16, 2005 04:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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