Iraqi Security Force 2.0

USA Today: U.S. plans elite Iraqi force for security

The U.S.-led coalition is recruiting Iraqis for an elite volunteer unit that would fight fellow Iraqis resisting the occupation of the country.

The plan is a tacit acknowledgement that the coalition and its Iraqi allies are having trouble fighting the insurgency because most new Iraqi security forces are reluctant or afraid to fight their countrymen.

“We didn’t get it right the first time,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who is responsible for organizing and training Iraq’s new armed forces. “So we’re going after other approaches.”

During recent insurgent violence, about 10% of Iraq’s security forces “actually worked against us,” the commander of the 1st Armored Division said Wednesday. “We have to take a look at the Iraqi security forces and learn why they walked,” Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey told a meeting of news executives in Washington.

The planned elite unit reflects a shift in the coalition’s strategy to create Iraqi security forces capable of fighting the expanding insurgency and a possible uprising by Iraq’s majority Shiite Muslims.

Regular Iraqi army battalions may still be called on to quell unrest. But the new unit, to be made up of volunteers already in the army, would spearhead counterinsurgency warfare. It would help the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, which is supposed to respond to internal disturbances but lacks training and equipment. The new unit’s size depends partly on the number of volunteers. It’s unclear whether there will be financial incentives to join.

As another piece, Iraqi Military’s Brutal Past Limits Use To U.S., points out:

The Bush administration should not have been surprised that the new Iraqi army would resist fighting fellow Iraqis, given the history of Middle East dictators using military forces to crush internal opposition, several military analysts say.

Two weeks ago, a battalion of the Iraqi army refused to join Marines fighting guerrilla forces in Fallujah. In the face of that refusal and the growing instability across Iraq, top U.S. officials, including President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have criticized the performance of Iraq’s police, civil defense corps and army.

For many Iraqis, the image of soldiers putting down rebellion is an unpleasant memory. Saddam Hussein often used his military to kill large numbers of Kurds in northern Iraq and to repress Shiite Muslims in the south, sometimes using the most violent means possible, including chemical weapons.

Dan Christman, a retired Army lieutenant general and former superintendent at West Point, says one explanation for the breakdown by Iraqi forces is that the Iraqi military is in the midst of “a long, hard slog” to change its culture and image as oppressors.

For decades, the Iraqi army swore loyalty to Saddam. Now, like the U.S. Army, Iraq’s soldiers will swear allegiance to a constitution, not a person. “To embed this notion in the leadership of the Iraqi army, which has brutalized its own people and waged war against its neighbors … will take a while,” Christman says.

Although all of Iraq’s new security organizations have had a spotty record in recent months, criticism of the Iraqi army is in some cases unwarranted, the analysts say. One major reason: The army was recruited explicitly to defend against foreign threats and to secure Iraq’s borders, not to fight a guerrilla war.

“The Iraqi military didn’t do what we wanted it to do. The problem is we were asking it to do the wrong thing,” says Dan Goure, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, think tank in Arlington, Va. “We should have known this would happen.”

The new Iraqi army, which is being trained by the U.S. military, began advertising for soldiers last year in a program designed to build an army based on Western ideals. In recruiting materials, U.S. officials described its mission as protecting against foreign militaries and stabilizing borders.

Michael O’Hanlon, a national security expert at the Brookings Institution, says it was probably unwise to ask the Iraqi army to fight alongside U.S. forces during such a critical stage in its development. “This is the wrong first mission for them,” O’Hanlon says.

Despite Bush administration statements that the insurgency in Iraq is being carried out by thugs, O’Hanlon says, the resistance appears to many Iraqis to be “anti-Americanism.” Under those conditions, it was unrealistic to expect the Iraqi army to join the fight. “It’s like asking them to take the side of the colonial power,” O’Hanlon says.

True enough.

Still, the new policy makes perfect sense to me. I also appreciate the candor here: Plan A failed. On to Plan B. This is a communication technique that should be emulated a bit higher in the chain of command.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.