Quora Question: Is the U.S. Failing in Iraq?

Iraqi soldier
An Iraqi soldier marches alongside other troops in a village south of Mosul, Iraq on April 28, 2016. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

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Answer from Roland Bartetzko, former German Army paratrooper, Croatian Defense Council, Kosovo Liberation Army:

Let's be fair: It’s not only the U.S. military that struggles to comprehend that Western military structure, doctrine, tactics and training cannot simply be “replicated.” From Bosnia to Afghanistan, all Western armies have had similar problems with their training missions.

“Building up” a foreign military is a very difficult and delicate process. It’s not possible to simply copy our concept about the role and structure of the military to other nations.

First of all, we have to get rid of one misunderstanding: It is often heard, mostly by U.S. politicians and “analysts,” that the Iraqi soldier lacks morale and discipline and some US officials even stated that these soldiers “lack the will to fight.” Nothing could be more wrong. The latest victories of Iraqi military units against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) show that under the right circumstances, the Iraqi soldier is as good as any other soldier in the region. The real problems are structural, deeply rooted and cannot be blamed completely on the Iraqis.

  • The Iraqi army has been structured the same way most NATO armies are structured. This “conventional” model with divisions and brigades only works if a military is disciplined and has a functioning logistics system. These preconditions do not exist in Iraq.
  • To fight insurgents, most militaries rely on smaller, decentralized units and Special Forces. Our “conventional” system however, was developed during the Cold War to fight a heavily armored conventional enemy. Therefore it is not suitable to combat ISIS.
  • Iraq is corrupted to the core. The corruption is so ingrained that when combating it, one has to be very careful not to cut off some living tissue. Most government employees cannot survive on their meager wages and are therefore depending on “secondary incomes.” If you cut them off they will either leave their job or will start stealing or embezzling money to support their families. Fighting corruption can make things worse.
  • Of course, corruption in the military has to be addressed, but this is an extremely long process and in the meantime the war goes on. Therefore corruption ,although not accepted, has to be taken into account when providing the Iraqi armed forces with military goods. Unfortunately this hasn't happened.
  • The relations between officers and troops in the Iraqi military are very different from what we are used to see in Western armies. Iraqi officers often regard their soldiers as lower life forms. In such an environment one cannot apply modern infantry tactics without making some adaptions.

In the end, the poor performance of the Iraqi army doesn't say much about the U.S. military, but it says a lot about U.S. military planners and analysts. These people are most often non-military personnel and were contracted. U.S. military personnel sent to training missions in Iraq had their orders and guidelines, which they couldn't ignore. They voiced their concerns and filed reports which were unfortunately not taken seriously.

There is no way around reforming the Iraqi armed forces, but it's doubtful that the U.S. administration has the will and the patience to go through with this process. To build up a foreign army it is not enough just to throw money around and send training missions.

Further reading: A former insurgent's guide to ISIS and Iraq | GRI

What does it say about the US military that the Iraqi military is doing so badly? originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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