U.S. Officers Detail Problems With Iraqi Soldiers

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 1, 2006

U.S. military advisers are confronting difficult behavior from Iraqi soldiers, who tend to fire all their ammunition in response to a single sniper shot or go on rampages even against civilians upon witnessing the death of a colleague, according to Lt. Col. Carl D. Grunow, a former adviser to an Iraqi army armored brigade.

"The 'burst reaction' may be attributed to Iraqis experiencing denial, anger and grief all at the same time," Grunow wrote in a recent article published in Military Review, the bimonthly publication of the U.S. Army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

He attributes that reaction to the Iraqi army's experience in the "high-intensity Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, a war with clear battle lines fought with mass military formations." At that time, Grunow writes, "Iranian human-wave assaults presented Iraqi soldiers with a target rich environment" and "battlefields covered with bodies following huge expenditures of ammunition."

His article, based on his year in Iraq, which ended in June, is in the July-August Military Review and is one of several in recent issues that have dealt forthrightly with concerns of military participants with the U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq's army during the ongoing war.

For example, Grunow writes that Iraqi units drop in strength as much as 20 percent after paydays because soldiers take leave and go home. Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who commanded the Multi-National Corps-Iraq in Baghdad from January 2005 to January 2006, picks up that theme in an article in the most recent Military Review. "The lack of a central banking system detracted from forces available. . . . Soldiers once a month must journey back to their homes to pay debts and pass the money on to their families . . . [and] are normally gone for up to a week, with the resultant loss to the unit of ready combat power," Vines writes.

Grunow also notes that some Iraqi soldiers do not show up for training that is difficult, and he says that up to 40 percent of some Iraqi units run away in the face of dangerous situations -- without punishment. Their officers, Grunow writes, value relationships rather than results and frequently fail to notice misconduct or failure.

He argues that U.S. advisers must deal honestly with the local culture because Iraqi soldiers "are under no effective contract and they always have the option to leave the service. The only power holding them is the promise of a paycheck (not always delivered) and a sense of duty."

Not all the critiques in recent Military Affairs issues center on lessons learned abroad. Some are aimed at officials in Washington.

"The trust senior officers repose in senior civilian officials has eroded," writes F.J. Bing West, who was an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and is a frequent traveler to Iraq and a consultant to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's office. "Inside the senior levels of the military and among those who follow foreign policy, anger is directed at elected and appointed civilian officials seen as too blithe in initiating the war and too obtuse in leading once the going got tough," West writes in his article on the U.S. military performance in Iraq in the new Military Review.

"While there is no unity of military judgment about the civilian management of the war, the Bush administration has been injudicious in its consultations with the military," West writes. Both he and Grunow say a key event was the May 2003 decision to disband the Iraqi army, which was made by former Coalition Provisional Authority chief L. Paul Bremer III at the direction of the Defense Department. Grunow notes that only the Iraqi army can prevent anarchy, and West describes the disbanding as having "changed the mission of the American soldiers from liberators to occupiers."

They agree that the Iraqi army must continue to grow and that the Iraqi police must be reformed. West writes that "training alone was not the answer" for the Iraqi police. "Too many police were corrupt and controlled by Shiite militias, and senior Iraqi leaders were doing little to punish disloyalty." Sectarian issues continue to disrupt police performance, he says: "How Sunni police can be effective and not be assassinated in their own cities has yet to be shown. Conversely, the Shiite police in Baghdad have lost all trust among the Sunnis."

Vines says that even keeping track of friendly forces has been a problem. "Battle-tracking the Iraqi Army, Police, Special Police, Border Enforcement Forces and armed contractors moving around Iraq was difficult, but essential to preventing armed engagements between coalition forces," he writes.

In the Iraq theater of operations, he writes, "we had more than 300 different databases tracking friendly and enemy event data across all the warfighter functions." About 82,000 radio frequencies were used by U.S. military units, government agencies, coalition organizations and Iraqi security forces.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company