Saturday, March 29, 2008

Will The Iraqi Army Please Stand Up?

By Cernig

As Maliki's offensively political offensive bogs down in Basra, the Associated press looks at the long tale of the Iraqi Army's failure to stand up so that US forces can stand down - mostly due to dribbling and pissing resources against the wall on the part of the Bush administration.

Iraq's new army is "developing steadily," with "strong Iraqi leaders out front," the chief U.S. trainer assured the American people. That was three-plus years ago, the U.S. Army general was David H. Petraeus, and some of those Iraqi officials at the time were busy embezzling more than $1 billion allotted for the new army's weapons, according to investigators.

The 2004-05 Defense Ministry scandal was just one in an unending series of setbacks in the five-year struggle to "stand up" an Iraqi military and allow hard-pressed U.S. forces to "stand down" from Iraq.

The latest discouraging episode was unfolding this weekend in bloody Basra, the southern city where Iraqi government forces - in their toughest test yet - were still struggling to gain the upper hand in a five-day-old battle with Shiite Muslim militias.

Year by year, the goal of deploying a capable, freestanding Iraqi army has seemed always to slip further into the future. In the latest shift, with Petraeus now U.S. commander in Iraq, the Pentagon's new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when homegrown units will take over security responsibility nationwide, after last year's reports had forecast a transition in 2008.

Earlier, in January last year, President Bush said Iraqi forces would take charge in all 18 Iraqi provinces by November 2007. Four months past that deadline, they control only half the 18.

Responsibility for these ever-unfulfilled goals lies in Washington, contends retired Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who preceded Petraeus as chief trainer in Iraq.

"We continue to fail to properly resource and build the very force that will enable a responsible drawdown of our forces," Eaton told The Associated Press.

Retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, a West Point professor and frequent Iraq visitor, also sees insufficient "energy" in the U.S. effort. "Even now, there is no Iraqi air force; there's no national military medical system; there's no maintenance system," he told a New York audience on March 13.
That failure is partly incompetence, part deliberate failure to provide Iraqi forces with the equipment they need to act independently of an American logistic and heavy firepower tail. Thus, in all major operations, the tail has been able to wag the dog.

By late 2005, the U.S. command had to acknowledge that only one of 86 Iraqi army battalions was ready to fight on its own.

The Iraqis still were not given artillery, big mortars or other heavy weapons. Iraq's political unpredictability and dangerous sectarian-political divides clearly made the Americans wary that heavy weapons might be turned against them, concludes Arab military analyst Nizar Adul Kader.

"This could have been one of the fears that Americans had to take into consideration," said Kader, a retired Lebanese major general.

...The Iraqi military's list of unmet needs remains long: artillery and modern armor; advanced communications and intelligence systems; a logistics network able to supply everything from food and fuel to transport and ammunition; combat hospitals; airpower.

"This is not a balanced fighting force," said al-Qassab, the retired Iraqi general. "It's only people armed with assault rifles and pickup trucks and they go and raid like a militia."

The Iraqis and Americans are working to make Iraqi logistics self-sufficient by mid-2009. But as for "fire support," training command spokesman Lt. Col. Dan Williams said, "heavier artillery is still a ways down the road."

Regarding Iraq's tiny air force, a handful of helicopters, old transports and light planes, "in my opinion, we were late to start on this," Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert R. Allardice told the AP last June, as he took over aviation training in Baghdad.

Today, as he leaves the command, Allardice confirms there are still no plans for modern jet fighters for the Iraqis, only small, propeller-driven attack planes.
Iraq has been thus rendered unsovereign, a mere Satrapy, unable to conduct its own defense against other nations. Now, we're seeing that it's unable to conduct it's own internal security - still - as well.

The 14th Division, the main formation in Maliki's attack on the Sadrists of Basra, was recruited from the Basra area itself and is mainly composed of Badr Brigade militia inducted wholesale into the Army. It has been preening itself in Diwaniyah, Kerbala and Najaf ever since, given the prestigious but job of guarding the main Basra-Baghdad rail corridor and the Holy Cities. It's being commanded by Maliki's own brother-in-law. But this Praetorian Guard has only the very lightest of Eastern European armored trucks as it's main personnel carriers, few tanks, and no heavy artillery.

This comparatively crack division, probably the only one Maliki could be so sure of mainly staying loyal, has proven utterly inadequate to the task given it. That's partly a problem of "balance of forces", as Fester so ably pointed out the other day, but it is also a legacy of American failures and deliberate policies which have left the Iraqi Army emasculated and little more than a well-equipped militia itself.

Unless the Bush administration and the Maliki government were deep in denial, believing their own PR on how wonderful the Iraqi Army now was, then they had to be at least somewhat aware of all this. So they must have known from the very first that Maliki's offensive would need American rescuing. That means, since it went ahead anyway, that they considered that rescuing a feature, not a bug.