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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part III

Toward the Objective: Building a New Iraq

Chapter 11
Training the Iraqi Security Forces


Saddam Hussein’s Military Legacy

During his long tenure in power, Saddam Hussein used his military and security forces as a tool to enforce his dictatorship. Promotions within the military, security, and police forces were largely based on favoritism and loyalty to Saddam rather than on competency or merit.1 The Iraqi Republican Guard (IRG), an elite warfighting force composed of seven divisions, was the core of the military, while the Special Republican Guard (SRG) served as Saddam’s praetorian guard and responded to any specific threat to his power. Although Iraq’s conventional forces looked formidable in 2003, in reality they were less than an imposing threat. Despite the experience gained during the brutal war with Iran between 1980 and 1988, the Iraq military was quickly crushed by US forces in 1991. After the Gulf War, Saddam feared the military might one day rise against him, and he worked assiduously to undermine its internal cohesion and professionalism. The 12 years of United Nations (UN) sanctions that followed the 1991 defeat severely degraded this force, making it a shell of its former self. Its training was woefully inadequate, its leaders lacked professional military education, its equipment was barely operational, and its enlisted men were largely conscripts with questionable loyalty to the regime.

Saddam feared mutiny by his own military leaders and, as a result, prohibited his commanders from rigorously practicing their profession. Military leaders tended to maintain a low profile, terrified that the paranoid Saddam would reward displays of initiative with execution.2 Lieutenant General Nasier Abadi, who served in the Iraqi Armed Forces (IAF) under Saddam, recalled, “For a dictatorship, the most vital thing for officers was to be obedient and that was the primary skill that you had.”3 The Iraqi Army was led by politically reliable Sunnis, and its ranks manned by Shia conscripts who were terribly mistreated and would often desert at the first opportunity.

Not surprisingly, officers in all of Iraq’s security forces had little understanding of how to effectively train their forces or employ their equipment. Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus, former Commander of MNSTC-I, illustrated the lack of hands-on training:

I was meeting with this superb Iraqi. . . . He hugged me as we landed there and he said, ‘General, I can’t thank you enough for introducing us to these revolutionary new training techniques.’ We were looking at some training. What I saw, people doing basic rifle marksmanship, some that were doing slightly advanced close combat marksmanship, but again, pretty basic stuff. . . . So I asked him, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Well, this idea of shooting live ammunition. This is really great. You can see where the round goes. You can see whether the people are actually hitting what they are aiming at.’ I said, ‘Well, how did you used to do marksmanship training?’ He said, ‘We were only allowed three rounds a year on average.’4

The country’s police forces also suffered from poor training, and widespread problems of illiteracy and poor physical conditioning further hindered this institution. Military analyst Anthony Cordesman contended, “The police ranked 11th out of Iraq’s 11 security services, and had minimal pay, training, and equipment. They feared any form of interference with government activity, and were largely passive and station-bound. . . . Corruption, favoritism, and nepotism were endemic.”5

Throughout his 26-year rule, Saddam made all important security-related decisions with little delegation. His elite forces, the SRG and the IRG, were the only trained and competent military and police force. Despite their inadequacies, Saddam relied on the ISF to keep the population under control, even if it meant the use of brutal techniques. Colonel Michael Tucker, the commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 1st Armored Division (1st AD), explained that the Iraqi police under Saddam had a particularly odious legacy:

[The police] were Saddam’s foot soldiers that went out and kicked your door down and drug your father out of the house, killed him, and then drove away. These were the people who when you called them in the middle of the night and said someone was robbing your house, they responded with, ‘Hey, listen, we are really busy. How much money do you have?’6

It was obvious to many within the Coalition that for the new ISF to become professional and capable institutions, they had to reject the legacy of Saddam’s military and police forces.

Chapter 11. Training the Iraqi Security Forces

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