Iraqi Soldiers Hinder U.S. Efforts

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Media: The Associated Press
Date: 24 September 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq_The plan was simple: Iraqi troops would block escape routes
while U.S. soldiers searched for weapons house-by-house. But the Iraqi
troops didn't show up on time.

When they finally did appear, the Iraqis ignored U.S. orders and let dozens
of cars pass through checkpoints in eastern Baghdad _ including an ambulance
full of armed militiamen, American soldiers said in recent interviews.

It wasn't an isolated incident, they added.

Senior U.S. commanders have hailed the performance of Iraqi troops in the
crackdown on militias and insurgents in Baghdad. But some U.S. soldiers say
the Iraqis serving alongside them are among the worst they've ever seen _
seeming more loyal to militias than the government.

That raises doubts whether the Iraqis can maintain order once the security
operation is over and the Americans have left. It also raises broader
questions about the training, reliability and loyalty of Iraqi troops _ who
must be competent, U.S. officials say, before America can begin pulling out
of Iraq.

Last week, for example, Sgt. 1st Class Eric Sheehan could barely contain his
frustration when he discovered that barriers and concertina wire that were
supposed to bolster defensive positions had been dragged away _ again _
under the noses of nearby Iraqi soldiers.

"(I) suggest we fire these IAs and get them out of the way," Sheehan, of
Jennerstown, Pa., reported to senior officers, referring to Iraqi army
troops. "There's nothing we can do," came the reply.

U.S. soldiers from the 4th Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment eventually
blocked the road again while Iraqi troops watched from a distance.

Some Americans speculated the missing barriers were dragged off to
strengthen militia defenses in nearby Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite
neighborhood that is a stronghold of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"They've been doing this all week. They're working against us," said
Sheehan, who resorted to waking up the senior Iraqi officer at the
checkpoint to complain _ futilely.

During another mission, Iraqi soldiers were suspected of looting the house
of a wealthy resident, U.S. troops said.

Some Americans said they had seen much better Iraqi troops in the northern
cities of Mosul and Tal Afar, which have more Kurdish soldiers. They have
been disappointed by the performance of units committed to the Baghdad

U.S. officers believe the problem has political and sectarian roots: Many of
the Iraqi soldiers here are Shiites recruited from the Baghdad area.

As the security crackdown focuses on Shiite neighborhoods, Iraqi troops come
in contact with fellow Shiites from some of the 23 known militias. That puts
great stress on the soldiers, who grew up in a society where respect for
religion runs far deeper than for government institutions.

"From my perspective, you can't make a distinction between Iraq army Shiites
and the religious militias. You have a lot of soldiers and family members
swayed and persuaded by the religious leadership," said Col. Greg Watt, who
advises one of two Iraqi divisions in the city.

He then pointed to the nearby guards of an Iraqi army division commander.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he has soldiers who are followers of
religious leaders," Watt said. "Are they loyal to the division commander?
Yes. But they may be loyal to both."

Watt expressed confidence the Iraqi army could win if it came to a pitched
battle with militias.

"But what the Iraqi army can't do is protect soldiers when they go home, or
protect their families," he added. "It's very, very difficult. That's why a
solution has to be a political one and not a military one."

U.S. military leaders have repeatedly called on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki, a Shiite, to aggressively disband the predominantly Shiite
militias, but so far little progress is seen on Baghdad's streets.

Most if not all the Shiite militias have ties to the government. Most
prominent is the Mahdi Army militia led by al-Sadr, who controls 30 of the
275 parliament seats and five Cabinet posts.

"All the militias we have are represented in parliament and government. We
hope they're going to try to find a solution between themselves," said Maj.
Gen. Abid Amir Rasheed, commander of the Iraqi army's 6th Division.

One immediate solution would be to bring in more units from outside Baghdad.
Although many of those units are largely Shiite, too, the soldiers would be
less likely to have family living under militia control.

But many Iraqi troops refuse to serve away from home. The commander of U.S.
forces in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. James Thurman, said his requests for 3,000 more
Iraqi soldiers have been refused because the troops won't leave their home

That attitude frustrates American soldiers.

"They have to step up, make sacrifices. We've made thousands of sacrifices
for our own country's freedom," said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Chinnis, 30, of
Richmond, Va. "I think they think the Iraqi people don't support them."