What Our Trainers Are Facing in Iraq

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What Our Trainers Are Facing in Iraq

Even if Bush's invasion of Iraq had not been based on deception, the long-term mission would still have faced tough odds. This hit home to me last week when a friend forwarded me a copy of a Vanity Fair article from the December '05 issue (not available online). VF's reporter visited U.S. army officials who are charged with training the new Iraqi Army.

As the article underscores, even when U.S. army officials are not facing snipers or suicide-bombers, they must overcome major logistical and cultural hurdles:

The [Iraqi Army] battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Ubiasis Ridha, is a fit man in his 30s who kept up with the Americans -- but many of the other officers couldn't.

As they explained to Captain Mark McClellan, in the Iraqi Army, officers are supposed to be fat. They said it was humiliating to have to exercise with their men. McClellan informed them that in the American army officers are supposed to be fitter than the men they command and better at using every weapon system. They looked at him as if he were insane.

Apparently, much of the point of being an officer in the Iraqi Army is to not have to do uncomfortable or difficult things.

This tidbit was also interesting:
During an officer-training session, one of the Iraqi officers interrupted Captain McClellan's presentation about how to plan an operation to point out that "in the Iraq Army we lead from the back, not the front."

The American officers didn't know what to say. The interpreter, a former professor of English who came back to Iraq in 2003, said, "Yes, and that is why you lost twice to the Americans."

The room erupted. The Iraqi officers were furious.

"That's not true!" one of them shouted. "They only won because of their technology, because of their airplanes!"
Finally, I thought this was an interesting revelation -- not what we're led to expect from a country with a fairly conservative Muslim culture:
Sometimes the culture clashes on the range took on a comical tone. Captain McClellan was disconcerted when his Iraqi [trainees] kept telling him he had a beautiful face. Some of them added their opinion that "women are for babies, men are for fun."

"I just say, 'Thank you,' and keep back," McClellan said.
How many of the Iraqi army trainees who were hitting on McClellan are bothered by the fact that under sharia, men who have sex with men are subject to execution?

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