Training Iraqi Soldiers


Many Iraqis are disappointed that many of the new Iraqi police and security forces refused to fight against the Sunni Arab and al Sadr Shia gangs. This was no surprise, as the Iraqi police had long been considered a bunch of corrupt cowards. The Iraqi army was known to break (run away from a fight) frequently. During the 1980s war with Iran, Saddam used various carrot and stick methods to get the troops to fight (even when just defending.) Ultimately, Saddam came up with the classic approach to creating an effective fighting force; selectivity and training. This led to the Republican Guard, which would fight (or at least would do so more often than the regular army, which rarely resisted). Actually, the Iraqi military performance, for over a century, has been poor. The Turks found that Sunni Arabs made good officers, if you were selective. The same was true with troops raised from among the Kurds and Sunnis. The Shia were less effective, and not really trusted because they shared religious customs with the traditional enemy; Iran. So the coalition will not be able to form an effective Iraqi security force quickly. It will have to take the long way. This means setting up more thorough screening of recruits and putting them through many months of intense training. This works. Always has. But the shortage of Arab speakers among the coalition troops and civilians limits how fast you can go with this program.

I suspect the traditional Iraqi unwillingness to stand and fight has less to do with cultural quirks than with the fact they never had any reason to. Absent a strong sense of national loyalty and a legitimate government, there’s not much incentive to fight to the death.

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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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.