23 July 2007

The Soul of Iraq seen in its Army

I have taken the liberty of transcribing a video shot by Michael Yon during Operation Arrowhead Ripper, contained in his post on Bless the Beasts and Children, Part 2. This is the Iraqi commander of the unit that had found a mass grave which Mr. Yon reported on in Bless the Beasts and Children. I have done my best to transcribe it, but the sound quality of the original was not optimal for the interpreter and the area, and I may not have gotten it all. Still, what Captain Baker (or as one of Mr. Yon's commenters said, it is most likely either Bakr or Bakhir) says is something that should be heard far and wide in the Land of the Free:

Interview with Captain Baker
Scorpion Company Commander
5th Iraqi Army 3-2
Besides the graves of murdered Iraqis
in al Hamira Village near Baqubah
June 30, 2007 11:50am

[I]-Interpreter present, speaking.

CB[I] - ...like this block. There's a couple of families down there and we talks to them and they don't respond to us.

MY: ...are they afraid to talk...

CB[I]: He said they talk to the Muqtar.

MY: Have you found the Muqtar?

CB[I]: Yes.

MY: Is he helpful?

CB[I]: He said we talk to the Muqtar and he tell us... like he didn't cooperate very good with us, but he tell us some information about this palm grove. He said this palm grove is al Qaeda, never let anybody go through this palm grove.

Michael Yon: And you know...This village is Sunni village, yes?

Captain Baker: Yes Sunni village.

MY: And al Qaeda does kill Sunni people here in Baqubah, many times, yes?

CB[I]: He said they kill all the Iraqis they don't care if its Sunni or Shi'ites.

MY: Have you been catching or killing any of the al Qaeda yourself?

CB[I]: I've capture the assistant for Zarqawi, his right hand, KBS... who had accompanied him and I deliver him to Coalition forces... and the Coalition forces gave that person... he gave them information... we capture him... they gave him $50,000... he's on the wanted list for al Qaeda troops.

MY: Who did they give $50,000?

[I]: Uh, that info guy.

MY: Who did they give the 50,000?

[I]: Coalition forces gave him a gift $50,000...

[US Soldier off-camera]: the informant.

MY: Oh, the informant. Thank you. What happened to... I mean... was that the guy that helped to kill Zarqawi?

CB[I]: This information guy... the information guy... he got the money. He helped them all to capture the Zarqawi system.

MY: Were you there when Zarqawi was bombed?

CB[I]: Yes.

MY: Immediately?

CB[I]: I wasn't in the same spot that he get killed in... but I was in KBS and we got some active over there.

MY: Did you see Zarqawi after he was hit?

CB[I]: Yes.

MY: And what condition was he in?

CB[I]: He said... ah... the situation after Zarqawi killed in Despa[sp?] very good for us...

MY: You mean because of the local people?

[I]: Yes.

MY: And the local people... what? they gave you information?

CB[I]: That's right. After Zarqawi's been killed al Qaeda troops are lost their command and they're disappointed... nobody looked up to them anymore.

CB[I]: He said... they were broken for that... after about a month we capture a lot of headquarters of al Qaeda. And we capture... I told you... his assistant... his name is Abbas. His nickname is Abu Abdullah.

MY: And what happened to Abu Abdullah?

CB[I]: Coalition forces took and he's in Bukah [sp?] right now... jail.

MY: Where are you from in Iraq?

CB[I]: He says, I'm Iraqi... and I live up north in Kurdistan.

MY: Do they feel safe here?

CB[I]: [not catching the lead in]...be not a situation in Diyala... all the Kurds back there... back there... in Kurdistan and other places... I hope in this operation we can destroy all the insurgents and kill them.

MY: 15 people are Kurdish? How many people are in your company?

CB[I]: 103.

MY: 103...and mostly Sunni, Shia or...

CB[I]: He said we've got Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, we've got everybody.

MY: Even Christian, too?

CB[I]: No.

MY: (slight laugh) Not too many of those to go around.

CB[I]: He said but we've got...I..I.. have some friends in the Army that are Christian.

MY: Yes, and some Yazidi, sometimes even, yes?

CB[I]: Yeah, they got some Yazidi.

MY: In your company?

CB[I]: Yes.

MY: Everybody gets along well, or...?

CB[I]: He said that we don't have any problems in my Company, my Battalion, my Brigade, even my Division.

MY: How many other places have you fought besides Diyala?

CB[I]: He was in Fallujah... he was with the Marines...

MY: Ah... when was that?

CB[I]: 2004

MY: What month?

CB[I]: Its...ahhh... September. And most of my guys with me then...

MY: Did you stay for the big fight in November?

CB[I]: Yes. We stay until January 2005.

MY: So you were fighting very hard...

CB[I]: He said that this is the only Battalion that served every hour..

MY: Yes... yes only one Battalion, right, and most of the rest did not go or went home, yes?

CB[I]: He said that our... our Battalion is the only one that served for the fight against al Qaeda in Fallujah City. We've got other Battalions that served outside the City.

MY: Did you lose many soldiers?

CB[I]: I lost 3/4ths of them.

MY: During that fight?

[I]: Yes.

MY: Is there anything you want to tell the people in the United States?

CB[I]: I want to tell the people of the United States that look what al Qaeda do to our country. He said al Qaeda crimes in our country, in our villages, in our houses, they kill the children... they kill everybody... Sunni, Shia, Kurdi... they don't care who is... his religions or whats he belong to. The thing is we need to help... we need to cooperate from Coalition forces more than before to end all the terrorism in Iraq. And this is... I want to tell the people over there this picture is live and this myself... myself and my guys with dead bodies, its not anything fabric or something. This is nothing but al Qaeda crime to right. They do a horrible thing in our country.

MY: One last question and then I will turn off the camera... do you believe in a big Iraq first or a Kurdish first?

CB[I]: He said fully from the first I'm Iraqi. From the first.

MY: Thank you, sir.
Now, for those of you who don't understand what is surprising about this, let me remind you that there are quite some number of individuals who put forward that the New Iraqi Army is just a 'super Shia militia'. You know, absolutely divided by sect? That little meme has been going on for a few years now and it is time to finally end it. Captain Baker is quite far down the chain of command in the New Iraqi Army, a Company Commander. He is also in one of the longest serving, longest created units in the New Iraqi Army, that being 5ID or Iron Division. He has been in combat where 75% of his Company was shot out from under him in Fallujah, in 2004. Thus he has seen the New Iraqi Army pretty much from its start, and how it has developed over time. There are some salient points to note:

1) He works under a unified command structure which cares about the strength of Companies internal to a Division, but ensures that it is properly manned and equipped. The ease of the soldiers under his command points to their trust and confidence in him, and it is the easy trust and confidence seen in US Armed Forces: alert, competent, and yet ready to react when needs be to changes. Throughout the interview various members of the Company are seen 'at ease' and yet there is also a calm sense of duty as individuals move around. There is no evidence of furtiveness or wariness, but there is that of combat weariness and a certain sense of 'hollowness' by what they have seen.

2) Captain Baker readily tells of problems with local officials, and, yet, the help that can be garnered from them. In this case having the area they entered as an al Qaeda area, one that shouldn't be trespassed upon for the things they did there. The fact that they then went in means that they had confidence in themselves to handle whatever they found be it hard firefight or something far more grisly. The quietness of the men is more than just professionalism, although that is the underlying sense I get watching them. They have seen something quite nasty and they are not clamoring to tell this. This scene reminds me of some from the closing film shot in World War II, and the soldiers telling what they experienced. Captain Baker is doing the same - he is 'bearing witness'. Not just as a soldier, but as a man.

3) This unit, by being a long lasting one, has knowledge across the Division and would have seen many other units from other organizations at work within the New Iraqi Army. It has good and clear ideas about how the New Iraqi Army is constructed, how it is manned and how it functions as an Army. These are not men that you can easily hide things from, not on a large scale, and as they become veterans of combat, the smaller scale stuff is also harder to hide, unit to unit.

4) The fundamental statements that put to lie those wanting to paint the New Iraqi Army as a Shia puppet are those that address sectarianism and ethnicity. The New Iraqi Army is integrated in that form, also. Within Divisions it is impossible to hide by sectarian division: that becomes obvious to Company commanders when other units do not function as they should during combat due to sectarian outlook. That also goes for ethnicity. The primary thing is that these soldiers see themselves as Iraqi first. They come from across all of Iraq, and their friendships across units are not delimited by sect or religion or ethnicity.

5) To get to this point where there are fully integrated Companies within Divisions, there must be a unified command and training system that ensures that secular and ethnic divisions do not divide up the Army. Units that adhere overmuch to one sect and support one over another get seen by the integrated parts and reported. Every set of Armed Forces on the planet will always have 'bad apples' and 'problem units'. The ability of units to operate at minimal levels, however, requires some level of cooperation and functioning so that units support each other. This was a difficult thing to do, as seen by the description of the 2004 Fallujah combat. Not all Iraqi units arrived, or would fight. That was a problem, and yet those that did arrive actually did fight and they were highly successful. These units would also complain that the *other* units needed to follow their example. All 'green' units have problems in combat, and that was the case with the New Iraqi Army in 2004. That had to change as combat veterans are skilled, accomplished and capable individuals able to operate in a combat environment as a unit. Combat veteran units will not put up with slackers, this has been true across time, and requires reform in the Army system to get units to fight as part of a whole operation.

Today in 2007 we see that happening across Iraq. Therefore this has been solved as a problem. Iraq is a majority Arab Shia population and will have that disproportionately represented in their Armed Forces. If it was 'sectarian' or a 'super Shia militia' it would have strict segregation within it, deferential rules in place for 'favored' portions of the Army and would, indeed, act like any other Arab Army.

To those of you wondering why these things are important, I will point you to my article on Creating an Army. This is not an unknown concept and is easy to discern just by the patterns of events over time, and I described it *previously* with this post, and I will excerpt a bit of it so that you can get a feel for the process involved:
And rebuild in the small towns, villages and small cities that can be quieted and use new Iraqi forces in those *first* to let them taste combat. The large cities are 'holding actions'. Push all the rest of the Iraqi political, infrastructure and economic side *hard*. Very hard. Let the New Iraqi Army clean out the old ways of thought and begin to start something brand new: a non-partisan Civil Army based on merit. That will take years if not a couple of decades to stand up completely, but their entire 'spin-up' will start to get fighting forces on the ground and give them real combat experience. It takes a hell of a long time to make a capable, trustworthy and competent Army and those are not hallmarks of the Middle East.

Then, slowly, shift operations to the larger cities using mixed Iraqi and MNF troops to start letting the Iraqis take a hand and learn what this fight *takes*. Start to encroach on the cities from firmly held provinces, towns and smaller cities and work damned hard to win the tribes over to the Government side. By doing all of that, concentrating on the tribes, local governance, and competence for the New Iraqi Army, you have a formula that removes the hinterlands from an insurgency. Their violence gets concentrated, very telegenic and has no place else to go.

As Iraqi effectiveness increases, suddenly *more options* appear on how to handle the large cities. One can bring on
a new force structure aimed at removing effectiveness from the insurgents and their ability to operate in a cohesive manner. From that 'peacemaking' troops can be sent in for final clear-out of disorganized insurgents partnered with police units and demonstrate effectiveness. Or a neighborhood by neighborhood cleansing could start, but that takes a lot of effective manpower and coordination. This was actually started in mid- to late-AUG 2006 and has been semi-successful in getting the more peaceful outer sections of Baghdad quieted. Or one could craft a 'dislodge and exploit' system that suddenly drops highly effective troops into the bad areas of cities to dislodge insurgents and then pick them off with fast mobile troops guided by overhead recon. Which is what we have now.
As you can see, any review of events would lead to seeing that something was going on with the New Iraqi Army, and the abilities shown in 2004 had changed dramatically *upwards* over time via a process of unit cycling to new areas. Captain Baker's unit needed a serious refit and sustainment period after losing 75-80 men, and here it is in 2007 fighting *again* and hard. At this level the United States Armed Forces have had NO equivalent losses as 75-80 men lost in one battle would get noticed because it is a huge loss for the force size the United States can field.

The effectiveness of the New Iraqi Army I have seen when I looked at Building the Mosaic of Iraq, which takes a wide swath of on-the-ground, first hand reporting by bloggers and examines what was going on there up to late last year. Here is a bit from Bill Ardolino from INDC Journal, when he was in Fallujah talking to a policeman there:
INDC: You mentioned that you hate the insurgents, is that just more now because you've been shot or did you have a different opinion of them before?

Mohammed: "They hit me and they also killed some of my family. Actually they killed my uncle who used to be an Iraqi Army soldier, and they killed him and burned his face. And then they actually started threatening us as well."

INDC: They burned his face?

Mohammed: "Yes. It's a substance called "tizar," it's like, acid. They put it in his face."

INDC: He was alive when they did this?

Mohammed: "Yes, he was alive. They burned him and stabbed him so many times, and also they shot him with bullets. And we found a note on him saying, 'The police and the army and the Americans are all the same.'

INDC: So they killed him because he was in the Iraqi Army?

Mohammed: "Yes. But we didn't tell any of these guys (the Iraqi police) around here (at the time) because they hated the Army as well."

INDC: So why do police hate the army?

Mohammed: "I think because the army actually liberated Fallujah, they work well, and they liberated Fallujah. And some of (the police) actually like (or liked) the insurgents."

"And the other thing would be because they are different (sects of Islam). But after the operations we started doing together, now we became like one and the same, we became like brothers."

INDC: The Iraqi police and the Iraqi Army?

Mohammed: "Yes. Now we became like brothers."

INDC: So how does the police work with the Iraqi Army when some of the police hate the IA's?

Mohammed: "Some bad guys used to be part of the police, but now they quit and ran to Syria. And actually in the JCC (American control room) they know (who) most of them (are)."

The rift between the IP's and IA's that Mohammed describes is accurate, as is the recent, though potentially transitory accord. After a recent set of operations where the Marines encouraged the police and army to work together, the Americans were surprised to find Shia IA's and Sunni IP's joking around with each other and hugging after a successful raid. As Gunnery Sergeant Jason Lawson put it, they were showing off captured insurgents "like kids comparing Halloween candy." Whether this amity will last is anyone's guess.

INDC: So who are the insurgents? Who are the people who are fighting stability? Are they locals?

Mohammed: "(Yes), almost all of them."

INDC: So why are local Fallujans fighting other Fallujans?

Mohammed: "Because the al Qaeda organization came to this city and controlled it so hard by killing. And some people here actually like killing and they liked Saddam Hussein as well, and I think the al Qaeda organization and Saddam Hussein are the same face."

INDC: What do you mean by "the same face," because Saddam was secular, he was not religious and al Qaeda is ...

Mohammed: "Because the language they use is killing. And the same people who used to be with Saddam, now they participate with the insurgency."

INDC: So their motivation for killing is what?

Mohammed: "Money and to be famous. And I think the first reason is to fight the American troops. They say, 'we can start from here and cross all the way to America to fight them.'"
From what we have seen this has not only stayed as a concept, this working together across sectarian lines, but remains to this day. The influx of Arab Sunnis from Anbar province will change the New Iraqi Army, but it is seen as already open to any Iraqi wanting to defend his Nation. And you don't get a choice of *who* you will defend in this: you defend the Nation of Iraq.

As happens with most Armies that work by basis of merit and competence, it begins to be seen as more competent and capable than the actual politicians trying to guide their Nation. This is true not only in Iraq but in the United States as well. And as Norvell B. De Atkine points out in Why Arab Armies Lose Wars, Armies fight as they train and are a reflection of their society. Apparently there is some underlying cohesiveness to Iraq, an integration to it on some low level that is not easily discerned by diplomats seeking to play the 'Great Game' of Nations and not reconcile themselves to dealing with the realities of the People in a Nation.

How do you know Iraq will come together?

Look at its Army.

It reflects the Nation of Iraq.

They do need training in the basics of how to make a government work, how to assure accountability within government, and how to find ways to drive out those people trying to drive a wedge into the Nation. They have never done this before, so the learning curve is damned steep. But they can succeed.

Look at their Army.

See the eyes of Captain Baker and ask yourself: 'What is the fate of those killers going after the innocents, the children and men and women of Iraq?'

The window onto the soul of Iraq can be seen through their Army.

And good men like Captain Baker and those he commands.

My thanks to Michael Yon and all the others doing the work the Hotel Lobby Media will not do to bring us a look into the eyes and soul of Iraq.

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