An Iraqi Army unit ready to control its turf
On the edge of the Sunni triangle, Iraqis took the lead on security, and violence dropped.
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This is not to say the Iraqis don't want better equipment, too. Theya's battalion recently acquired four Soviet-made MTLB armored personnel carriers from the US. These rebuilt relics from the 1980s Iran-Iraq war carry great symbolic value for civilians, while also allowing the Iraqi Army greater reach on the roads between towns, Cloutier says.Skip to next paragraph
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Other tanks and personnel carriers are going into service with the new army's first mechanized brigade, which made its first public appearance during elections in January. The mechanized brigade will be far more visible at referendum polling stations in October, US officers say.
But Iraqi troops are also being given the technological edge over their opponents in smaller ways. Theya's troops are currently training with night-vision goggles - outdated early 1980s models being sufficient to outmatch insurgent gunmen. In recent months, the whole battalion has also received bulletproof helmets and body armor, although many soldiers still need to be persuaded to wear them.
Training and fighting capacity remain several steps behind the army's organizational charts, even if larger formations are gradually taking shape. "Before, we were training as platoons and squads," Theya says. "Now we're training at the company level. We use more machine guns, more firepower."
Six months ago, Theya dismissed the newly formed Fourth Division command as "only symbolic," whereas he now calls it a "necessary step in developing Iraq's military." The division, he suggests, is roughly where his own battalion was about a year ago.
Theya recently shuffled his company commanders and section heads, hoping to counter favoritism within the battalion's internal groupings. "He saw that some guys weren't pulling watch duty or manning checkpoints," a US officer said.
A major hurdle remains on the logistical side. Theya says his unit has not been directly touched by corruption in the Ministry of Defense, which has allegedly deprived the Iraqi Army of hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of weapons and equipment.
Yet the battalion depends on the Americans to provide it with sufficient ammunition and especially fuel, often on an ad hoc basis. According to US trainers, Iraqi officers are often reluctant to make requests, reflecting the old Iraqi army's traditional top-down mind-set.
The flow of materials is better than in the old army, Iraqi officers say. "Before, you would just listen to orders. You couldn't even get a notebook and pen, let alone ammunition," says Theya's brother, Capt. Saddam al-Tamimi, who also works at battalion headquarters. "Now, there's an obvious difference. Our soldiers' morale is better, because of the freedom to talk between officers and soldiers," he adds.
The 2/2 is recruited locally, and separate companies tend to reflect local tribal affiliations. Theya says this doesn't bode well for putting together a national army. The old army's recruitment system, based on mixing together soldiers from all over Iraq, was more effective as a way to downplay sectarian or ethnic tensions, he says.
Still, the 2/2 has started to look professional. The colonel, who used to meet visitors in a tracksuit and leather jacket, now wears pressed battle-dress uniforms. His troops conduct house-to-house movements with ease, even if the Americans still take a heavy hand in planning. "We have achieved irreversible momentum," Cloutier says. "This area will not go back to the way it was."
But Iraqi military progress is far from evident in other parts of the country. While the 2/2 evolved out of one of Iraq's earliest postinvasion army formations, its success can be replicated everywhere with time, the US commander says. "I can't speak outside my sandbox. But to different degrees, you have the same things happening all over Iraq."