The Iraqi Army
U.S. officials are moving rapidly to create a civilian-run Iraqi Defense Ministry that will work in tandem with the American military after the handover of Iraqi sovereignty on June 30 and could form the nucleus of a strategic alliance between the two countries.
Since February, about 50 Iraqi officials have been flown to Washington to attend a Pentagon-run school on how to recruit, train and equip a military that operates under civilian leadership, according to the retired U.S. Army colonel who directs the program. A class of 25 graduated on Friday from the three-week course, which included meetings with officials in Congress and the Defense and State departments.
With the handover of sovereignty less than 100 days away, the Bush administration and Iraq’s leaders have not negotiated a status-of-forces agreement spelling out the rights and responsibilities of U.S. troops in Iraq after June 30. U.S. officials have said U.N. Resolution 1511, passed on Oct. 16, and the Iraqi interim constitution adopted this month provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to remain in Iraq. But the establishment and staffing of an Iraqi Defense Ministry appear aimed at ensuring that the Iraqi military’s new leaders will be responsive to U.S. interests, regardless of what kind of agreement is eventually reached.
In a nine-page executive order signed on March 21, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, established an Iraqi version of the Pentagon, replete with a chief of staff for the armed forces, an inspector general and directors for budgeting, intelligence and logistics. While the ministry has administrative control of the armed forces, the order calls for Iraqi troops to operate under the command of the U.S.-led forces.
Positions in the Iraqi ministry are to be filled by civil servants and military officers rather than political appointees. Shaways, as secretary general, would head the defense bureaucracy and answer to an appointed defense minister — another civilian. U.S. officials said their goal is to stabilize the new military by making it difficult to remove anyone but the minister.
“This is very much like the British model, where the ministry is run by career civil servants and military professionals,” a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Thursday. He said Bremer would name an interim defense minister in early April.
Creation of a new Iraqi army has been one of the highest priorities of the occupation authority since Bremer’s decision 10 months ago to dismantle the force that served under former president Saddam Hussein. Bremer’s move proved to be his most controversial. Although he subsequently ordered the formation of a new 40,000-soldier army, many Iraqis say that the dissolution of the original army destabilized society and may have created a vast pool of trained, unemployed fighters ready to join the insurgency that has claimed hundreds of American and Iraqi lives.
U.S. officials began recruiting and training the new army in August, officials said, and by December they had assembled a team of legal and policy experts to devise a new Defense Ministry that would be insulated from Iraq’s fractious domestic politics.
The senior U.S. official acknowledged, however, that the interim Iraqi government could jettison the plan. “That’s for the Iraqis to decide,” he said. “We believe we have offered the best advice and the best organization, and many Iraqis, including Governing Council members, have embraced this recommendation. We made modifications based on their suggestions.”
Well, this is encouraging. A professional, non-political military is almost an absolute requirement for a successful democracy. And, while it’s certainly possible that a sovereign Iraqi government will reject this model, it’s certainly reasonable for them to decide that the advantages of a strong military relationship with the United States would be in their strategic interest.