Does the Iraqi Army exist?
Official reports of the recent assault on Fallujah rarely failed to mention that the Iraqi Army played an active part, alongside US Marines, though there wasn’t much evidence of this on camera, except for the initial “capture” of a hospital, when an Iraqi soldier shot himself in the foot.
Earlier in the year, it was clear that Iraqi soldiers were understandably reluctant to fight fellow Iraqis alongside Americans, and deserted in droves. One had the impression that most had signed up in order to get a paid job, and had no intention of fighting Iraqis, and that some had joined in order to get armed and trained for very different purposes, as a US Marine openly stated on Channel 4 News before the assault on Fallujah started.
After the initial mass desertions, the official mantra was that the Iraqi Army needed more training, as if training (of some unspecified kind) by foreigners would make Iraqis more enthusiastic for fighting and killing fellow Iraqis. The other change mooted, and apparently enacted to some degree, was that Ba’athist officers be remobilised and put in charge. This didn’t seem to make much sense if the Army was to be used to put down resistance to the occupation in Sunni areas.
Ba’athification was tried in Fallujah, when the US Marine assault on the city was called off by the White House last April. At that point, control of the city was handed over to the so-called Fallujah Brigade, made up of around 1,600 members of the old Iraqi Army and Republican Guard, led by former Ba’athist officers. Jasim Muhammed Salih, a former chief of staff of a Republican Guard brigade, was appointed commander. He didn’t last long, allegedly because of his past, and Mohammed Abdul Latif, a former Ba’athist intelligence officer took over.
The Marines armed the Brigade with semi-automatic rifles, provided them with vehicles and furnished a base for them. The Marines stayed outside Fallujah and maintained only nominal contact with it. Theoretically, the Brigade was supposed to contain the resistance and apprehend those responsible for killing the four US security personnel, whose deaths had been the trigger for the original US assault. In reality, the Brigade went native, and became part of the resistance. In September the US quietly disbanded it. It had not been a happy experience for the Marines.
The Los Angeles Times of 11 September contained a very interesting account of the Brigade and its disbandment by Alissa Rubin (see http://middleeastinfo.org/article4734.html). She quotes the Marine colonel responsible for liaison with the Brigade as saying:
“The Fallujah Brigade is done, over. … The whole Fallujah Brigade thing was a fiasco. Initially it worked out OK, but it wasn't a good idea for very long. … We're trying to go in and recover the stuff we gave them, but I'm not sure it's worth it. They’ve already stolen the air conditioners.”
When its disbandment was announced, Rubin reports:
“Discontent rippled through the group, many of whose members had hoped that it would remain intact and eventually become a unit of the new army. Judging by members’ comments, it seemed likely that some would openly rejoin the insurgency, in which many had been involved before joining the brigade.”
And she reports a Brigadier General saying: “We don't know where to go now after this dismissal by the American troops and the Iraqi interim government. They leave us no other option, but to join the resistance.”
As an instrument for rooting out the resistance, the Fallujah Brigade was, as the Marine colonel said, a fiasco.
However, it appears that Ba’athification in the Iraqi Army (and elsewhere in the state apparatus) has continued, and perhaps accelerated now that the ex-Ba’athist, Ayad Allawi, has been appointed by Washington to be Interim Prime Minister. That would make sense since Allawi’s organisation, the Iraqi National Accord, is made up largely of former Ba’athists, both military and political.
An article by Sama Hadad, entitled Fallujah’s Lesson for Iraq (published by openDemocracy on 18 November) paints an extraordinary picture of ex-Ba’athists appointed by Allawi being later discovered to be connected to the resistance, beginning with Amer al-Hashimi, who had been made made Army Chief of Staff:
“Al-Hashimi, a former major-general in Saddam’s army (and Salafist), was fired in August after being exposed for supplying Salafi insurgents with intelligence and promoting them to high ranks in the new Iraqi army. Al-Hashimi’s replacement was Mohammed Abdul-Qadr, former Ba’athist governor of Mosul and deputy chief of staff under Saddam; but even more worrying is that al-Hashimi himself was later appointed an advisor to the ministry of defence.
“Allawi’s policy was reflected also in the appointment of Talib al-Sama Lahibi as commander of the new Iraqi National Guard for the province of Diyala. Al-Lahibi, a former Saddam officer, was arrested in September when it came to light he was leading – rather than attempting to suppress – the insurgency in the province.
“But Allawi’s gravest re-Ba’athification blunder was his appointment of Yousef Khalaf Mahmood as head of security for the Iraqi interim cabinet. Mahmood was arrested at the end of October after the discovery that he was working with the insurgents and had supplied them with the names and addresses of every government official and ministerial member of staff – six of whom (including family members) have been murdered in their homes. This blunder will keep insurgents busy for months to come.”
I cannot vouch for the accuracy of all this, but I have no specific reason for doubting any of it.
(The author, Sama Hadad, is a spokeswoman for the Iraqi Prospect Organisation, which describes itself as a pro-democracy group based in Baghdad and London. She was exiled from Iraq as an infant. Before the war, she was an enthusiastic supporter of US military intervention to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist regime.)
So who were the Iraqi troops who allegedly stood shoulder to shoulder with the US Marines in Fallujah this time? Were they officered by ex-Ba’athists? It was widely reported that a senior Kurdish officer deserted before the assault began. However, according to Scott Ritter on Al Jazeera on 9 November, they were all Kurdish; they were, in fact, a Kurdish militia unit. He says:
“The battle for Falluja is supposed to be the proving ground of the new Iraq Army. Instead, it may well prove to be a fatal pill. The reality is there is no Iraqi Army. Of the tens of thousands recruited into its ranks, there is today only one effective unit, the 36th Battalion.
“This unit has fought side by side with the Americans in Falluja, Najaf, and Samara. By all accounts, it has performed well. But this unit can only prevail when it operates alongside overwhelming American military support. Left to fend for itself, it would be slaughtered by the resistance fighters. Worse, this unit which stands as a symbol of the ideal for the new Iraqi Army is actually the antithesis of what the new Iraqi Army should be.
“While the Bush administration has suppressed the formation of militia units organized along ethnic and religious lines, the 36th Battalion should be recognized for what it really is - a Kurdish militia, retained by the US military because the rest of the Iraqi Army is unwilling or unable to carry the fight to the Iraqi resistance fighters.”
Is this all true? I don’t know for sure, but, as a former US marine officer, Ritter should have access to reliable sources for such information.
(For another account of Iraqi troops working with US soldiers, see an article entitled Shadow of Vietnam Falls Over Iraq River Raids by John Burns in the New York Times on 29 November. There, the Iraqi troops patrolling along the Euphrates near Fallujah are described as “a special Iraqi commando unit assigned to the country’s powerful Interior Ministry”, many of whom are “drawn from elite units of Saddam Hussein's special forces”. They seemed to be unenthusiastic soldiers, with a tendency to be insubordinate towards their US officers.)
On 2 December, the CBS evening news ran a piece on deliberate misinformation supplied by the US military in connection with Fallujah. Two items were mentioned: one was informing CNN that the assault had started some three weeks before it actually started, the purpose being, it was said, to get the resistance to expose their positions by firing on the US military; the second was continual exaggeration of the role played by Iraqi troops.
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