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Where's The Iraqi Army?

I wrote about this before on Tapped, but the interesting question to see out of the latest round of fighting is not whether or not the US Army and Marine Corps are capable of beating back attacks by lightly armed militia men. Rather, the question is whether or not the Iraqi forces we're trying to put into place are getting substantially better at holding their own ground without American help. If they are, then continuing to provide help as Iraqi forces continue to improve seems like a sound policy. You can't see a precisely exit date coming out of that strategy, but you do see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, whereby US forces can stop taking an active role in Iraqi politics and turn things over to the new government. Unless I badly misunderstand him, however, Tom Lassiter thinks that's not going on, and American troops remain as vital as ever to keeping the Allawi government intact.

August 8, 2004 | Permalink


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I would have thought that they would have avoided using the Marines and getting Iraq back into the news unless they had to. Like maybe most of the Iraqi army ran away.

Posted by: Tim H. | Aug 8, 2004 12:12:13 PM

ran away and joined the insurgency, i'm guessing.

Posted by: Olaf glad and big | Aug 8, 2004 12:33:41 PM

and my understanding would be that the accurate phrasing is "lightly armed, untrained militia teenagers."

Posted by: howard | Aug 8, 2004 12:39:46 PM

Let's parse the parser and see if this article, which appeared as "news" in Knight Ridder newspapers is worthy of the claim.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - After the past two days of fighting in southern and central Iraq, the difference between firebrand cleric Muqtada al Sadr and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi couldn't be any more clear: Al Sadr has an army, and Allawi does not.

After two days of fighting Al Sadr's army has been reduced by about 400 killed and 1,200 captured. Iraqi and US casualties combined in these encounters are less than 20. Allawi personally and publicly toured Najaf. Al Sadr is in hiding.

Al Sadr's men certainly didn't seem worried about the Iraqi government or its security apparatus Friday.

They apparently should have been.

One quote attributed to a Marine colonel is a legitimate critique of the potential effectiveness of Iraqi security forces in that it addresses a lack of heavier weaponry. The 14 remaining paragraphs are completely unsupported characterizations, the author's take on what 25,000,000 other individuals think, or braggart "Mother of all Battle" quotes from members of Al Sadr's so-called army. I'd like to know if al Arajie is even still alive.

How did the Iraqi forces perform in these battles? Was the tactical leadership competent? Did a lack of heavy weapons by Iraqi forces result in any small unit defeats? How many of the 400 dead and 1,200 captured are Iranian or Syrian foreigners?

How about some friggin' honest reporting?

Posted by: Warthog | Aug 8, 2004 12:42:56 PM

I don't know, except for Amarah you don't hear about police stations being overrun and abandoned, and you do hear about combined operations with the Iraqi police and the Iraqi national guard. This thing was kicked into a higher gear by a police station in Najaf holding its ground under a Sadr attack and calling in the Marines for help. Certainly it means they're not at the "ready to stand alone" stage, but things also seem to have progressed a bit from the complete collapse of this past April.

Posted by: rd | Aug 8, 2004 12:48:06 PM

Warthog, um, the point was that it was the Marines that crushed Sadr, not the Iraqis. If you recall, the governor of the province called the Us because 18 IP were taken hostage by the Mahdi Army.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 8, 2004 12:49:46 PM

"but things also seem to have progressed a bit from the complete collapse of this past April."

This is the impression I get today, there may be Iraqis fighting Sadr. I just don't know, the few first hand accounts I have seen don't mention Iraqis.

Sistani left town, the press is covering much, I am wondering if there are just enough Iraqi soldiers around the battle that the Americans can use them as a cover for destroying Sadr, and then Fallujah. They could then say the Iraqi army did it, which is trouble, but less trouble outside Iraq than if Americans killed civilians and destroyed towns. I just have a feeling Bush wants something settled by the convention.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 8, 2004 1:00:27 PM

Warthog, um, the point was that it was the Marines that crushed Sadr, not the Iraqis.

Could be, but you darn sure didn't learn that from Lasseter's story. The progress of the Iraqi forces is an important story. I'm asking only that it be reported honestly.

Posted by: Warthog | Aug 8, 2004 1:01:57 PM

Warthog, the American press won't leave the Green Zone, al-Jazeera has been kicked out, and I do not believe a word coming out of an officer's or American bureaucrat's mouth. When I hear grunts saying Iraqis fought hard, I will start thinking it is true.

But I lived thru Vietnam, when the Brass was saying that Arvn was just amazingly brave and effective soldiers. I gained skepticism the hard way.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 8, 2004 1:06:37 PM

"They could then say the Iraqi army did it"

Good point, Bob. you know I almost think they could get away with that. There does seem to be a good reservoir of patriotism there, so I think a lot of Iraqis would be willing to accept a bit of fiction out of sheer nationalism. It seems to have worked in Mosul, which was reported everywhere as Iraqi police fighting Ansar al-Islam, but seems to have actually been the Stryker Brigade.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 8, 2004 1:07:36 PM

When I hear grunts saying Iraqis fought hard, I will start thinking it is true.

I don't disagree.

You imply that Al Jazeera should have more credibility that an American field officer. Did you intend that?

Posted by: Warthog | Aug 8, 2004 1:16:09 PM

Yes, though would depend on the rank. I wouldn't believe al Jazeera, but they would have pictures I could study.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 8, 2004 1:21:32 PM

warthog, you can say lots of good things about american field officers that are true, but that they have "credibility" when talking to the press isn't one of them.

Posted by: Olaf glad and big | Aug 8, 2004 1:57:30 PM

Is there anybody on the ground over there at all? The contrast with my memory of Vietnam is astonishing. Every single night the evening news would start with Koppel or his like at the front, with action in the background. Those guys went to where the fighting was.

I visit "Command Post" they are as good as it gets, which ain't good enough. Economist? Guardian? Are there any objective reporters on site?

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 8, 2004 2:19:11 PM

robert fisk is on the ground bob. recently he said that the iraqi army could have a parade in certain areas of baghdad, but not much more than that.

Posted by: Olaf glad and big | Aug 8, 2004 2:45:28 PM

Given that Knight Ridder was the one news organization to do a reasonably accurate job on the appropriate degree of skepticism prior to the war, they have some reputational capital in the bank. That doesn't prove anything about anything, but it beats the track record of, for instance, adminstration spokespeople.

As for officers, warthog, there is a long list of quotes from american military officials about how weak the opposition is, about how we've turned the corner, about how we already defeated al sadr, quotes going back to about july, '03....

Posted by: howard | Aug 8, 2004 3:47:45 PM

Before assigning credibility to a single word of Robert Fisk's current reporting I suggest that you go into the archives and review his first-hand accounts of absolute invincibility of the mythical-Afghan-warrior-never-defeated-in-300-years. There may be one or two less truthful reporters out there but I can't name them.

Posted by: Warthog | Aug 8, 2004 3:50:28 PM

In general MSM reporters completey underestimate the raw soldiering skills and lethality of the US military, and completely overestimate the ability of the forces opposing the US. Lassiter's article is a good example.

I don't know how quickly the Iraqi security forces are progressing, but I intend to find out. That's not an easy task bcause MSM reporting on Iraq is abysmal. You have to pick and choose a segment here and a segment there and then follow up on it. You have to look at external events for an indication of how things are going internally in Iraq. For example, that Kofi Annan is offering to broker a cease fire for al Sadr is an extremely good sign that al Sadr's insurgency is near total collapse.

Posted by: Warthog | Aug 8, 2004 4:11:38 PM

i suggest you go educate yourself about the situation in afghanistan, warthog.

Posted by: Olaf glad and big | Aug 8, 2004 5:26:10 PM

i suggest you go educate yourself about the situation in afghanistan, warthog.

You mean stuff like the huge percentage of Afghans that are registering to vote in the face of Taliban death threats for doing so?

Or stuff like warlords continue to play a role in Afghan politics - like they have for the last 1,000 years.

There is one thing about Afghanistan of which I am well educated - thousands of Al Qaeda recruits no longer have sanctuary there although an equal number now have graves. Bin Laden's strong horse looks funny with no legs.

Posted by: Warthog | Aug 8, 2004 5:38:03 PM

Warthog, let's consider al Sadr.

If we can assume that everybody in Sadr City supports him, that's about 10% of the iraqi public right there. However, they're suffering typhoid and cholera epidemics, so let's cut it down to a million people. They aren't exactly fanatics but they're pretty close.

Every month or two we kill a thousand Sadrists and we say they're finished. Militarily they're easy to kill, they don't get much good training. But how hard is it for Sadr to get another thousand poorly-trained guys? Not hard at all.

So, who can keep it up longer? How many times can we kill a thousand Sadrists and announce that we've won? We're likely to get tired of killing them before they get tired of dying. And they might pick up some skills, too.

Our other obvious approach is to kill Sadr. We've been trying hard for three months but we haven't caught him yet. Once Sadr is safely martyred we might have a breathing space while his lieutenants sort out who's leading. Or maybe not. And possibly there might be nobody who can lead except him, and then maybe it will all fall apart, and some other shi'ite group will take on the role of the one who says the american troops have to go, and probably Sadr's 10% will join them.

Sadr has never been much of a direct military threat. He never has more than a couple thousand troops at once and they aren't trained. The problem is things like airstrikes on Najaf. Like that graveyard -- Juan Cole suggests as a rough equivalent some enemy doing airstrikes on Arlington Cemetary. And we'll no doubt at some point be going into the shrines after sadrists.

It's no military threat at all, it's just 10% of the population that doesn't accept us there and is willing to keep dying. At least we got the media out of there so we can bomb holy cities and crowded slums without the pictures going onto the TV screens.

My own suggestion is, first, let Sadrists and anybody else have legal political parties that can run for election. The party puts a hundred names on the list, and if they get 20 seats and the top twenty all lose their atrocity trials then the next twenty takes office. Anybody can run. Once Sadr knows his people will have a party to represent them, no tricks, he's likely to calm down. Particularly if he researches how the NRP has done in israel. Get it established that his people will have an important place in government and he's likely to calm down about letting the IP patrol the streets. Get the sadrists and the IP to get along and we don't have to move in to kill sadrists, and that part is likely to work out.

The same approach might have a chance with salafis and sadamis. Give them power proportional to their votes and they might settle down.

We said no sadamis in government and the sadamis started fighting.
We said no salafis in government and the salafis started fighting.
We said no sadrists in government and the sadrists took land and dared us to kill them.

Maybe we'd be better off if they got elected and argued about what to do. I doubt it would hurt.

Posted by: J Thomas | Aug 8, 2004 6:53:56 PM

Ya know, i was on the fence about warthog - serious person or right-wing shill? - until his 5:38 posting, which settled it.

Right-wing shill.

Too bad, in a way, because he's clearly more intelligent than your typical right-wing shill, but the giveaway were these sentences: "There is one thing about Afghanistan of which I am well educated - thousands of Al Qaeda recruits no longer have sanctuary there although an equal number now have graves. Bin Laden's strong horse looks funny with no legs."

Wrong on so many levels: wrong because we relied on proxies at Tora Bora and, in fact, didn't complete the Al Qaeda job; wrong because there is no basis for assuming that we killed "thousands" of Al Qaeda recruits, although it sounds bold; wrong because if Al Qaeda isn't still a major threat to American national security, then what are all these Bush people babbling about to the media today, and why do we have orange alerts, and why does bush emphasize al qaeda?

This kind of stirring but empty commentary, so prevalent in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, continues to get in the way of clear thinking about the problem of islamic fundamentalist terrorism, the problem of nuclear arms proliferation (a separate but not unrelated issue), and the problem of failed states (also separate but not unrelated, although, of course, the backbone administration tends to conflate all three).

The reality is that we broke up Al Qaeda training camps and safe havens, which was a worthy but incomplete achievment, and then got distracted into iraq, and all the pugnacious talk in the world doesn't change that....

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