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We Were Right to Disband Them
AEI.org ^ | December 23, 2004 | Thomas Donnelly

Posted on 12/23/2004 4:58:55 PM PST by Voice in your head

One of the enduring controversies of the American experience in Iraq has been the decision to disband Saddam's army after toppling his regime. Current conventional wisdom holds that this was a huge mistake which accelerated the breakdown of order in Iraq. The trouble we're experiencing building new and effective Iraqi forces is taken as obvious proof of this truth. Plus, a bonus of the conventional wisdom is that it conveniently places the blame on Ambassador Paul Bremer, who has stepped down from his post and departed the immediate scene.

President Bush's frank assessment of the current state of Iraqi security forces at his press conference would seem to reinforce this argument. At last accepting that the simple size of the Iraqi force--formally 114,000 today--wasn't the real measure of effectiveness, the president acknowledged that, while there were some good leaders and a number of units that were performing well, "the whole command structure necessary to have a viable military is not in place." Bush even earned kudos from the editorialists at the New York Times for being "admirably blunt" in confronting this "sobering reality."

It is undeniable that building effective Iraqi security forces is a tough task. But the very difficulty of the job is, if nothing else, a measure of how broken Saddam's army itself was. The old Iraqi army's sole claim to competence was its performance in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980 to 1988. For many years, that impressed American intelligence and military analysts, but their assessment rested on a poor understanding of the facts on the ground and a comparison with an Iranian army whose tactics were built on human wave attacks by troops inspired with religious fervor and mullah-strategists inspired by a lust for power.

The true qualities of the old Iraqi army were more fully revealed--"exposed" might be a better word--during its extended encounter with U.S. forces in the first Gulf War, the no-fly-zone operations of the 1990s, and the invasion of March 2003. It's hard to think of a more one-sided and less distinguished record of human combat; it puts Omdurman in the shade. Most notable is that, in something like 300,000 no-fly-zone sorties, the United States and its coalition partners--remember when France was on our side?--lost not a single aircraft. American forces routinely lose people in training accidents because of the stress of realistic exercises; Iraqi performance was less than training "opposing forces," who, of course, have no live ammunition.

If Saddam's army proved a paper tiger against the U.S. military, it was moderately more capable in its ability to massacre Iraqi civilians. With its Sunni-dominated officer corps, the old security forces were a symbol of the violence that Saddam's minority rule visited upon the Kurds and Shia. Not surprisingly, then, the old army's command structure was picked much more for its Baath party membership and personal loyalty to Saddam than its discipline or competence. It's not just that we would have had to replace a lot of rotten generals after the invasion, it is that the entire structure was rotten to the core.

Our troubles in building competent military and paramilitary forces ought more properly to remind us how truly revolutionary our purpose in Iraq and in the region really are. In fact, there were no legitimate state institutions in Iraq--civil or military. There was no significant body of "technocrats" who, with proper guidance, could accelerate the business of state-building. And embracing the Saddam's army would have sent an unmistakable message to the Iraqi people that the United States was either unwilling or unable to wrest control of the instruments of state power from the Baathists.

Indeed, the challenge in postwar Iraq, as in Afghanistan, is that security institutions "legitimate" to one group, in the sense of having popular support, are violently unacceptable to others. The only effective military forces are those like the Tajik-heavy Northern Alliance in Afghanistan or the peshmerga Kurdish militia in Iraq, which contain an obvious sectarian character. In both places, the United States has been working hard to "nationalize" these forces, bringing them over time, with a mix of carrots and sticks, into emerging national armies and police forces.

Would such a gradual conversion process have been possible with the old Iraqi army--a Sunni militia, writ large? Perhaps, but unlikely. Certainly a more orderly demobilization, in which Sunni officers might have been quietly bought off, could have taken some of the bite out of the insurgency. But one way or another, the old Iraqi army had to go--and with it, the old regime.

Ultimately, it is putting the cart before the horse to believe that there can ever be fully legitimate and effective national military forces prior to the birth of a legitimate national government. Our greatest postwar military mistake in Iraq was thus not that we disbanded the old Iraqi army too quickly but that we moved to create a new Iraqi state too slowly.

Thomas Donnelly is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: iraq; iraqiarmy; iraqimilitary

1 posted on 12/23/2004 4:58:55 PM PST by Voice in your head
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To: Voice in your head

Confiscating as many of their weapons and ammo as possible
might have been a decent idea.


2 posted on 12/23/2004 5:02:26 PM PST by dwilli
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To: Voice in your head

Donnelly is a sharp guy but the entire issue is a canard. The Baathist cowards scattered to the winds, there was no Army to "preserve".


3 posted on 12/23/2004 5:03:53 PM PST by jwalsh07
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To: dwilli
Confiscating as many of their weapons and ammo as possible might have been a decent idea.

Which is exactly what was done.

4 posted on 12/23/2004 5:04:33 PM PST by jwalsh07
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To: Voice in your head

I agree. And the old Sunni-dominated army would have been unacceptable to the Shiites and Kurds. It had to go. And when it did, those attached to the old order started fighting back to regain their lost power and privileges. Starting from scratch wasn't the easiest thing in the world, but think how much more lethal a Baathist commanded military would have been to our troops the other day in Mosul. The bad guys can still infiltrate the security forces of the new Iraq to hit at us - but they longer control it. In the end, that makes all the difference to Iraq's future.


5 posted on 12/23/2004 5:07:01 PM PST by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: jwalsh07
My theory is that an election is OK, but demilitarizing Iraq is the real goal. Every day that goes by, more tonnage of munitions are being dealt with by our guys. Let them all kill themselves as long as nobody gets us over here. Rumsfeld knows from where he spoke yesterday.
6 posted on 12/23/2004 5:08:40 PM PST by Thebaddog (Dawgs on the coffee table.)
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To: Voice in your head

It's about time somebody pointed this out...


7 posted on 12/23/2004 5:09:00 PM PST by PowerPro (DOUBLE W - He's STILL the one. Now don't that feel GOOD????)
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To: jwalsh07

Yep. But Iraq was a vast ammo dump under Saddam. And we're still finding new caches of hidden weapons nearly a year and a half after the country's liberation. With all the violence, I'm surprised it hasn't been even worse.


8 posted on 12/23/2004 5:11:16 PM PST by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: goldstategop
It is literally impossible to stop a committed enemy who is willing to die to kill you.

Our young fellas are paying the ultimate price to give their children and their children's children an opportunity to avoid a conflagration of immense proportion. Can't say enough good about them.

9 posted on 12/23/2004 5:14:50 PM PST by jwalsh07
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To: Voice in your head
I always thought disbanding the Iraqi army was a good idea...if you (plural, general "you") think it's bad NOW, imagine that we decided to hire 25,000 unknowns, 20,000 of which we later discover are still loyal to Saddam, for security and to work closely with our troops? Need I remind people that the UN SPECIFICALLY hired Saddamite thugs for security of their mission in Baghdad and of the RESULT?

Yeah, it would have been a GRAND idea to hire the the Iraqi army, lock, stock and barrel, arm them and let them mow us down like they did at the UN.

DUH!

10 posted on 12/23/2004 5:17:07 PM PST by cake_crumb (Leftist Credo: "One Wing to Rule Them all and to the Dark Side Bind Them")
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To: dwilli
Confiscating as many of their weapons and ammo as possible might have been a decent idea.

Wouldn't have done any good. They just would have gone out to one of the 10 billion weapons dumps Saddam had all over that country and picked up more. No, we did everything humanly possible. We have exploded billions and billions of dollars worth of ordenence. Dismissing the army was the only way to build up a force that the Iraqi people would have confidence in. As it is, we are seeing some of the problems we would have dealt with anyway.

11 posted on 12/23/2004 5:23:54 PM PST by McGavin999 (Senate is trying to cover their A$$es with Rumsfeld hide)
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To: McGavin999
" As it is, we are seeing some of the problems we would have dealt with anyway"

And on a CONSIDEARABLY smaller scale.

Personally, I don't understand why ANYONE would take the mass media's advice on how we SHOULD handle Iraq. They're the ones that sisn't want us to go in in the first place. Some of them were on Saddam's US funded, UN blood for oil vouchers payroll.

12 posted on 12/23/2004 5:39:00 PM PST by cake_crumb (Leftist Credo: "One Wing to Rule Them all and to the Dark Side Bind Them")
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To: dwilli
Hard to do that when we are arguing for a 2nd Amend. right here in America. I know your intention, but it would look rather hypocritical.

One of my captains in Sadr City says that his area is an Brady-Bill nightmare. Every home has at least one AK and many have RPGs.

13 posted on 12/23/2004 5:48:26 PM PST by LS
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To: LS
I was in Baghdad with the 3rd ID in 2003. When we were quelling the looting and horseplay that had engulfed the city, my technique was to have Haji police himself. We allowed each home and each business to have a weapon, so long as they kept it indoors (for gas stations, each attendant was allowed to carry a weapon). We even made up improvised weapon permits for them, to make sure there was no confusion about this rule. We encouraged a few volunteer parents armed with AKs to stand guard outside of their children's schools, when class was in session. We stepped up our patrols at schools when kids were showing up to school and when kids were released; at gas stations, when they were closing; at other businesses and clinics shortly before curfew. Worked like a charm.

Then came 1st AD. They relieved us and were in full Bosnia/Kosovo peacekeeping mode. They started confiscating weapons. I tried to explain to them why it was a bad idea. But, they had their ideas for how they were going to do things and they were not interested in fielding suggestions from us, even though we had been there for months. It didn't take long for the place to go to hell, after that relief in place in June 03. Did the city go to hell because they attempted to disarm everyone, to make the city "safe"? I think so. I can't prove it, but it's one heck of a coincidence. It is not just bad policy to disarm a populace. It is also an arrogant and rude gesture toward a culture such as the Arabs to do something like that. I'm just amazed that the opposition wasn't more fierce.

14 posted on 12/23/2004 8:14:13 PM PST by Voice in your head ("The secret of Happiness is Freedom, and the secret of Freedom, Courage." - Thucydides)
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To: Thud

Finally someone is stating the obvious.


15 posted on 12/23/2004 8:48:29 PM PST by Dark Wing
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To: Voice in your head
Good post about your experience in Iraq. The 3rd ID sounds like a clueless American urban police force, more concerned about guns held by civilians endangering their officers than with the public getting victimized by criminals. Unfortunately, in the case of Iraq, the result is not just a crime wave in bad neighborhoods but the spurring of an insurgency.

As the article points out, the argument over "disbanding" the Iraqi Army is misconceived because they were not a serviceable military force. But that does not close the issue. Rather than being left to get into mischief, the Iraqi Army could have been paid by us and kept on base under military discipline. In effect, they would have been POWs on salary as we interrogated and demobilized them. Most of them would have been grateful for a paycheck.

As they were assessed, we could have cherry picked for new Army recruits, police, militia, interpreters, and so on, with the rest noted for ID and Intel purposes before they were discharged. On the whole, we would have been better served to have paid the remnants of the Iraqi Army to march in formation for a year, take democracy classes, and talk to us than to have them become supporters for the insurgency.

As for the Sunni vs. Shia conflict, carefully vetted Sunni Iraqi Army veterans would be useful head crackers in Sunni areas at least, which is where most of the problem is. Indeed, that is essentially what we are doing now, a year late and with mixed success after having lost the moment.
16 posted on 12/23/2004 11:18:04 PM PST by Rockingham
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To: Voice in your head
One of the things I'm seeing is the difference in "corporate culture" not only among the service branches but among the different units within each branch. For ex., I have a cousin who is a Lt. Col. in the Marines and whose son was over there, and, of course, he is convinced that the "Army way" (particularly the 3rd ID was "heavy handed" like a "blung instrument" and that the Marines were sooooooo much more efficient.

This is one of the perils with our greatest military strength, which is the autonomy and individuality of our officers---each unit is (to a degree) free to establish its own policies. For ex., one of the individual decisions (I forget where, now, it's a blur) was to pull back from many operating posts in the city into a few "enclaves." This was not just for security, but (in the opinion of the Army guy who sent this to me) to make the Iraqis take more of a role in their own security---just as your group apparently did.

The disadvantages of all this is that you get policy changes that the Iraqis don't "get" when one group replaces another, and you get an uneven level of results, as, obviously, everyone won't be as successful as everyone else.

17 posted on 12/24/2004 5:53:07 AM PST by LS
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To: LS
Being a guy down at the company level, I'm not privy to the communication that the bigshots had going on. It was my impression that there was very little. The unit that replaced us seemed to have determined its strategy well in advance of ever meeting us. It seemed that we were good for nothing more than orienting them to the sector's physical landmarks and explaining logistical hurdles. The NCOs were interested in getting as many pointers as possible, so as to stay alive, but going to battalion command and staff meetings with the incoming units seemed like a waste of time, because it was as if we weren't even there.

I think you have a good point about the autonomy of the officers being a strength and a weakness. It is my impression that the leaders who came of age in the cold war were still geared towards fighting the Soviet Union and hoping for their war to be one of giant flanking maneuvers in large open terrain. I don't think they anticipated or were particularly interested in counterinsurgency. Unfortunately, that is exactly what they got. When you're fighting a big, evil, conventional opponent, you can get away with leadership via email, because the small unit leaders know their job. In other words, the autonomy of the subordinate officers had very few downsides. But, when you're conducting operations that your subordinate officers know little if nothing about (such as counterinsurgency) then you've got to be hands on, interacting with the civilians, observing the troops, and staying knee-deep in all operations, because the smaller unit leaders need guidance. Every company commander was pulling his hair out as he took his best guess as to how to run his sector, knowing nothing about the task that he had been given, resulting in totally different standards of behavior for the civilian populace as they traveled from neighborhood to neighborhood. Among the civilians, this caused confusion, frustration and a loss of confidence in the abilities of the coalition.

Empowering leaders is a great thing, but only if they have been properly trained. This mission, early on, was one for the Special Forces, Civil Affairs and Psyops - and there was a large number of those folks here. But, they were used almost exclusively for capturing high value targets. I think that it should have been the other way around. The SF folks know how to build a rapport with indigenous people, work with them and advise them. The regular infantry folks know how to kick a door in and grab or kill whomever is behind it. Unfortunately, our missions were flip-flopped.

18 posted on 12/24/2004 5:00:28 PM PST by Voice in your head ("The secret of Happiness is Freedom, and the secret of Freedom, Courage." - Thucydides)
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To: Rockingham

I agree. I'm just not sure if we had the resources to pull it off.


19 posted on 12/24/2004 5:06:39 PM PST by Voice in your head ("The secret of Happiness is Freedom, and the secret of Freedom, Courage." - Thucydides)
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To: Voice in your head
There is a reason for the lack of resources. In the 1980's, with Viet Nam a fresh memory and Reagan trying to help the contras in central America, the US military made a collective decision that they never wanted to do another guerrilla war unless the country at large was mobilized and in full support. So the Army put many of the support troops for occupation and anti-insurgency operations into reserve units as a way of being able to tell civilian leaders "no can do" when they proposed undeclared wars and fighting guerrillas.

By 2001, except for the Marines and special forces as partial exceptions, the entire subject of "small wars" and guerrilla wars was treated as being of mere historical interest. Consequently, now that we need to do an occupation and fight an insurgency, we find that we lack the necessary men, doctrine, and equipment in the active Army. Thus we call up reserves and hire contractors who hire retired veterans and police. We find that we lack equipment and have to do on the job anti-insurgency training and that our efforts are often at cross purposes for lack of relevant doctrine.

Unlike most people, when I hear our military and political leaders talk about noble goals, Nicias and the Sicilian expedition ominously come to mind. But I am heartened that Rumsfeld and the Bush administration do not seem so foolish as to actually think that good people with good intentions must perforce bring good results. There is also Churchill's backhanded compliment that the Americans always get it right in the long run after first trying every other way, and Rommel's similar comment that in fighting the Americans, they impressed him at first as the greenest troops that he had ever encountered, but soon impressed him as learning faster and to deadlier effect than anyone else.
20 posted on 12/24/2004 7:36:54 PM PST by Rockingham
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To: Voice in your head
Excellent points. I think it is useful to constantly keep things in the "big picture" of time (I'm a history professor, so natch this is my bag). Overall, a freer society will produce better leaders, period. In the short run, you will always have screwups (in the economy, a freer economy will obviously have more business failures than a "planned" economy that does not allow failures). Same in the military: more autonomous leaders means more individual decisions and a relative rise in the proportion of bad decisions (as well as good).

But over the long haul, this can only be good. It's not the most desired form of training, but "on the job" training IS training, and people do learn from their mistakes. For ex., the Army already figured out that in the "new" volunteer Army in a war zone, everyone must be completely combat ready---there are no "specialists" who just serve meals or do communications. It already has adjusted its training regimen---whether enough or not, we'll see, but this has been the approach of the Marines for some time.

Afghan/Iraq will create a generation of unmatched military leaders---I dare say, the result will be a corps of officers that surpasses the Mexican War group of Grant/Lee/Sherman/Longstreet/Stuart etc. These men and women will be trained in counterinsurgency like nobody's business.

21 posted on 12/25/2004 5:27:20 AM PST by LS
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