Where's That Army?

| Mon Sep. 19, 2005 1:36 PM EDT

The Washington Post this morning on the need to create a multi-ethnic Iraqi security force to pacify Iraq:

The answer [to defeating the insurgency in Iraq], military officials and analysts say, lies in something the U.S. and Iraqi governments haven't been able to achieve: the creation of a truly national army that includes Sunni Arabs for deployment into Anbar and other hot spots, and of a national government that gives the Sunni minority back a share of political power.

So how's that going? Here's one report, from Inside the Pentagon's Elaine Grossman:

Behind the scenes, many officers are cautioning that even under the best circumstances the emerging Iraqi army does not appear ready to fill the security vacuum left by departing U.S. troops, regardless of Casey's earlier optimism.

While selected Iraqi units appear ready to fight without U.S. support, many of them are more loyal to their tribes than to a unified army, officials say. For example, with considerable support from the U.S. 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, units drawn primarily from the Kurdish pesh merga — a militia reportedly feared by many Arab fighters — recently led the charge in the Tal Afar area of Iraq, where hundreds of enemy fighters have been killed or detained.

When U.S. commanders have attempted to partner with Iraqi units, at times they have found they could not rely on their local counterparts to fight against insurgents, several officers point out. In Sunni-dominated areas, American leaders have sometimes imported Shiite or Kurdish troops from other regions to help counter the resistance, as is the case in Tal Afar, officials say.

Here's another look, from Peter Galbraith's latest New York Review of Books piece:

The problems with the Iraqi army go beyond the many opportunities for corruption. In this deeply divided country, people are loyal to their community but not to Iraq, and the army reflects these divisions. Of the 115 army battalions, sixty are made up of Shiites and located in southern Iraq, forty-five are Sunni Arab and stationed in the Sunni governorates, and nine are Kurdish peshmerga, although they are officially described as the part of the Iraqi army stationed in Kurdistan. There is exactly one mixed battalion (with troops contributed from the armed forces of the main political parties) and it is in Baghdad. While the officer corps is a little more heterogeneous, very few Kurds or Shiites are willing to serve as officers of Sunni Arab units fighting Sunni Arab insurgents. There are no Arab officers in the Kurdish battalions, and Kurdistan law prohibits the deployment of the Iraqi army within Kurdistan without permission of the Kurdistan National Assembly.

It's not going very well at all. Galbraith resurrects his oft-repeated plan to partition Iraq into three states—Sunni Arab, Shiite Arab, and Kurd—though this runs into some rather obvious problems. How do you divide the mixed cities—like Baghdad, which has both Sunnis and Shii, or Mosul, which has large Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite populations? Elaine Grossman's piece is interesting: it seems that some officers believe that the Iraqi Army will only stand up and fight for itself if the United States recedes into the background; others think this is madness and the whole thing would disintegrate without heavy U.S. support.

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