Building a "New Model Army" in Iraq
From the Christian Science Monitor; excerpted from a longer article:

It was dusk when a joint US-Iraqi foot patrol set out for a hostile neighborhood of Mosul. Days earlier, residents had taken paint donated to spruce up a school and used it to smear anti-American slogans on the walls.

Within a few blocks, youths started hurling rocks at the patrol. Repeatedly, Iraqi soldiers rushed at them with arms raised. But an American lieutenant called them back. "They really beat the crap out of their kids in this country, so I have to rein in these guys," says Lt. Brian Patterson of St. Louis, Mo., as a stone pings off a lamppost.

Later, Lieutenant Patterson prodded the Iraqi recruits forward. "Spread out more!" he said in a hushed voice as the squad turned down another dim street.

One of the recruits is Staff Sgt. Rakad Mijbil Rakad, who served for 17 years in the Iraqi Army and quit only in mid-April when his unit surrendered. He says he was fed up with the Iraqi Army, its stale bread, bribery, and abuse.

"I lived all my life with wars, from the [1980-88] Iran-Iraq War until now," said the Mosul native and father of seven. "It was just war, with no results," he said bitterly. "The Iraqi government destroyed the Army."

Nationwide, a total of 20,000 Iraqis like Sergeant Rakad have signed up for new military units being formed by the US-led coalition with the ultimate goal of taking over Iraq’s defense. Forces in progress include: a 30,000 to 40,000-strong New Iraqi Army (NIA) with three infantry divisions; a 25,000-man border police force; and, most urgently, a 15,000-strong militia named the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC). One 800-soldier ICDC battalion is planned for each of Iraq’s 18 provinces to help coalition forces stabilize the country.

In northwestern Iraq, about 500 new Iraqi border guards are manning checkpoints and conducting patrols in pickup trucks along the Syrian and Iranian borders. In addition, the 101st Division has trained more than 600 Iraqis, both Arabs and Kurds, for security forces that will feed the new Army and militia.

While there is no lack of recruits, such forces require solid leadership that can help break old habits, US officials say.

Lt. Christopher Wood took charge in Mosul in May of a platoon of 30 Iraqi soldiers who he says had no concept of US military conduct. To them, detaining someone meant beating them. Weapons fire was often indiscriminate. "We’d show them how to target, and they’d say ’No, you just spray," Lieutenant Wood says.

On the other extreme, the Iraqis were "very sloppy with cleaning their weapons." On patrols, they quickly grew bored, and began talking and taking cigarette breaks.

Still, Wood learned he could not single out Iraqis for criticism as he would American soldiers. Upbraiding them provoked intense embarrassment and hurt pride. Instead, he started to make up "bedtime stories" - fictitious incidents about, say, a soldier killed while chatting during a night patrol - to drive home his points. "They caught on, and would draw the right conclusions."

Today, Wood says his platoon has gone from "a hodgepodge, rag-tag group to a fairly efficient team of soldiers." He trusts them enough to patrol with them alone. They also visit mosques incognito to gather intelligence.

Rakad, although a veteran officer, doesn’t mind taking orders from a young US lieutenant. "Americans treat their soldiers well, and they respect our religious beliefs, also," he says. Despite death threats and accusations of betrayal from Iraqi citizens, he says he will continue to cooperate with Americans and defend them if necessary.

Still, doubts linger. US soldiers question to what extent Iraqis are buying into their own future. For their part, Iraqi soldiers wonder how committed the US will be in the long run to their nation’s security.

"If it wasn’t for the American Army, Iraq would be very bad. The strong would eat the weak," says Rakad. He hopes US forces will stay one or two years.

After that, he says, "the one to take their place should be me."
Posted by: Mike 2003-09-23