Five months ago, photographer Alan Chin made available to BAGnewsNotes a series of photos he took while embedded on a raid in Mahmudiya, Iraq, a town south of Baghdad.
The raid was conducted by an Iraqi army unit consisting of around 85 soldiers backed up by a five or six man American advisor team. The Americans planned the operation and the Iraqis carried it out.
Upon receipt of the images, The BAG felt they might provide clues as to the state of readiness of the Iraqi personnel (or lack thereof). Chin, however, thought otherwise. In his mind, there was really no way to tell how effectively the Iraqis were performing.
Today, with the public and Congress losing patience with the war, the question of Iraq’s military and security capability has become a crucial point of interest. Before delving into a debate on the issue, however, the public would do well to consider whether the question has that much merit.
As Frank Rich points out in his column this week (Dishonest, Reprehensible, Corrupt … – link),
Iraqi troop readiness has been routinely exaggerated by George Bush and
Dick Cheney. Given the continuous pattern of White House falsehood and
deception, however, Rich suggests the preparedness issue is merely the
next great topic for Administration dissembling.
Beyond the propaganda, James Fallows’ cover story (Why Iraq Has No Army — summary version) in December’s The Atlantic asserts
that a viable Iraqi army is plainly not realistic anytime soon. The
piece is as good an analysis as I’ve read on the war. Besides
chronicling the history of U.S. ineptitude over the course of the
adventure and drawing out the neglect of the actual (versus
political) war by the Administration, Fallows offers an in-depth study
of why the effort to train the Iraqis is doomed to failure.
As a crib sheet, here are some of the factors he covers:
1. Low U.S. respect for the task of training
2. Overwhelming language barrier
3. Rotation policy impedes creation of trust and development of longer term relationship with Iraqi counterparts
4. Iraqi’s more loyal to family, village and sect (in that order) than to country
5. More advanced equipment withheld from Iraqis
6. Training of individual Iraqi troops far different than building ongoing unit cohesion
7. No plan to supplement Iraqi forces with air support, logistics,
vehicles and equipment, medical capability and communication networks
8. Military stability fundamentally tied to political stability
9. Iraq’s most effective units often tied to specific factions (such as Kurdish peshmurga or different Shiite militias)
10. U.S. law restricts the training of police forces in other countries
11. Problem has failed to attract detailed White House attention
Although his comment seemed frustratingly inconclusive at the
time, Mr. Chin’s summation about what he could make of the Iraqi troops
that day in Mahmudiya now seems almost illuminating.
Regarding what light, if any, my photos shed on stories on the
effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the Iraqi military, let me comment
that I don’t think they can that much, really, because you should never
judge an army by how it looks.
Meanwhile, as criticism grows over training assumptions, arguments break out over the criteria
for our Iraqi military presence, and dissension rises from the ranks of
conservative hawks, one might ask: "What else is new?" Consider this article, for example, that appeared in the NYT Week In Review last June 19th entitled "Choose: More Troops in Iraq Will (Help) (Hurt)." In contrast to the media’s characterization that Congressman Murtha’s call for a pullout was fundamentally unique, well, the NYT article lends this context:
Last week, even as opinion polls showed continuing erosion in
support for the war, a conservative from a state heavy with military
bases who has been a staunch supporter of the war, Representative
Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, joined with another Republican and
two Democrats in calling on President Bush to begin drawing down the
troops in Iraq by Oct. 1, 2006.
And if the new noises coming out of the White House seem at all remarkable, there was also this passage at the end of The Times piece, revealing the political clairvoyance of one military voice:
"I think the drawdown will occur next year, whether the Iraqi
security forces are ready or not," a senior Marine officer in
Washington said last week. "Look for covering phrases like ‘We need to
start letting the Iraqis stand on their own feet, and that isn’t going
to happen until we start drawing down’. "
(All images courtesy of Alan Chin/Gamma. Baghdad, Iraq. June 2005. Posted by permission. For more on Alan Chin, see: Portfolio. Kosovo Diary as well as And Then I Saw These. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)