Iraqi Military Faces Hurdles In Its Quest To Take Charge

Iraqi Military Faces Hurdles In Its Quest To Take Charge
May 15th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iraqi Military Faces Hurdles In Its Quest To Take Charge

Iraqi Military Faces Hurdles In Its Quest To Take Charge
New York Times
May 15, 2007
Pg. 10

By Alissa J. Rubin
KIRKUSH BASE, Iraq, May 9 — The heat of the day was just beginning as Brig. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard greeted Lt. Gen. Ali Ghaidan Majid, commander of ground forces in Iraq, and the two boarded a helicopter for Diyala Province, one of the most violent areas of the country.
General Pittard, who oversees training for the Iraqi Army, elite police and border guards, travels five days out of seven, tracking the progress of Iraqi forces as they prepare to eventually take charge of the country’s defense.
The 56-year-old General Ali, as he is known, is a former commander in Saddam Hussein’s army who will eventually be in control of all Iraqi Army divisions, some of which still report to the Americans. He was imprisoned in Iraq after the Persian Gulf war in Kuwait, as were a number of other generals.
On this trip, he was hoping to negotiate a date for the Americans to hand over control of the Fifth Division in Diyala. The Americans would remain in Diyala and be involved in fighting and strategizing with the Iraqis, but gaining control of the division would give General Ali a greater say in determining strategy.
A day spent with the two men offered a glimpse into the challenges facing the Iraqi military as it tries to take a leading stabilizing role.
Of the Iraqi Army’s 10 divisions, eight are under Iraqi control. Only two, the Fifth Division in Diyala and the Seventh Division in western Iraq, are still under American control.
The Fifth Division is well equipped now and almost at full strength, but it has had a tough fight.
“The Fifth Iraqi Army Division is O.K.,” said General Pittard, though he said it was still short of officers.
Americans who have worked with the division indicated that it was better at finding the enemy than before, and discussions about strategy showed the Americans took the Iraqis’ arguments seriously.
At one point, General Ali said he wanted to know from the Fifth Division commander if the troops were ready to join his command. Maj. Gen. Shakir Hulail Hussein al-Kaabi, the commander, told him that one of the division’s brigades was ready, but the others probably were not.
When asked when they would be ready, he said the Americans had the schedule, but did not seem to know it himself. An American officer answered the question, putting forward an idea for moving the division over to Iraqi control in stages.
At a meeting with the Fifth Division’s First Brigade, officers gave PowerPoint presentations on the insurgency’s activities. Within the First Brigade’s area, there are at least half a dozen Sunni Arab insurgent groups. Some have ties to Al Qaeda, some to Baathist insurgents. In a few areas, the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia, is active.
“There are three groups operating in Balad Ruz,” reported an Iraqi intelligence officer, using his pointer to show a town in the middle of the province. “The Al Qaeda leader here is named Karah. They operate in small cells of six to seven people, their strategy is to emplace I.E.D.s, attack with small arms fire and force people to leave their homes,” he said, using the abbreviation for improvised explosive devices.
General Ali nodded. More than any American officer, he understands this province. He comes from Balad Ruz. He knows the terrain, he understands its volatile mix of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, he knows its tribes. In the briefing he asked questions about groups within tribes and which insurgents they supported.
The insurgency is only one of his problems. For this division and for the entire Iraqi army, the logistics are a huge issue. Salaries are paid in cash and orders for pay from the division must be carried by hand to Baghdad. Then, dinars are loaded into trucks and moved in an armored convoy to pay the soldiers.
It is harder still to get fuel, said Lt. Col. Michael Beaudette, who runs the military transition team for the First Brigade. “The Ministry of Defense, they don’t listen to you unless you drive your fuel request to Baghdad,” he said. “It can take two weeks for something that needs five signatures.”
By the end of the day, General Ali had decided he wanted the division to be under his control on May 31; he will discuss that with Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of daily operations in Iraq. General Ali said he would push the idea of moving the division headquarters to the provincial capital of Baquba from its base 40 miles away. “All the people in the province are saying they do not feel safe because the division headquarters is so far away from them,” he said.
But he was also clear that he does not want his troops left alone.
When asked about the proposals by Democrats and a few Republicans in Congress for an American pullback, General Ali was clear — not now, not yet, not for a while.
How long is a while?
“When we are ready,” he said. “We know we have command and control responsibility, but we still lack many things: We need artillery and air support, and logistics support and medical support, too, and the intelligence experience that the coalition has and advanced equipment they have and that we lack.”
“As military people, we recognize we cannot do all those things now by ourselves.”

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