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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


The New Iraqi Army is Born

In the summer of 2003, as other offices within the CPA began reforming the Iraqi ministries and standing up the police and other security services, Major General Paul Eaton led the CMATT into Iraq and began recruiting, training, and equipping the New Iraqi Army (NIA). Eaton arrived on 13 June 2003, 2 months after the fall of the Saddam regime, with five officers. (The officers on this staff were on loan to the CPA from CENTCOM and did not plan to be in Iraq for an extended tour.) After arriving in Iraq, Eaton and the CMATT found out they would be part of the CPA and would report to Slocombe’s deputy, Lieutenant General Luis Feliu of the Spanish Army. Eaton had enjoyed little time to prepare for the mission, recalling that he had received the call to leave for Iraq on 9 May 2003 from the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Commander, General Kevin Byrnes, when he was at home in Georgia with his wife: “We just kind of looked at each other and I said ‘it’s a little late, getting this kind of notification. I would have figured the guy to do that would have been on station already.’”24

After rushing to Iraq, Eaton and his staff reported to CPA headquarters and found they had inherited a 24-page PowerPoint briefing and a budget of $173 million.25 CPA’s original concept for the NIA called for three divisions of light or motorized infantry to be built by September 2006—in a little over 3 years. Those numbers were arrived at by a very simple logic. The Coalition had divided Iraq into three zones each of which would require a single division. The “rule of three” was extended downward, leading to divisional organizations that had three brigades, each of which had three battalions.26 Thus, the new army would have an overall strength of 27 battalions. To augment the NIA, the CPA directed CMATT to form a small aviation element and a coastal defense force.27 The NIA was designed to defend against external security threats, in contrast to its previous role as a prop for Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. One key CMATT document emphasized the defensive nature of the NIA, describing the basic set of missions of the army as “point security, convoy security, route security, foot and vehicle patrols, border patrols and other duties for territorial defense and stability operations in Iraq.”28 The plan kept the force small so as to pose no threat to Iraq’s neighbors, and it would be built slowly to create a professional force under civilian control. Eaton would later call this Phase I of building the NIA.

In a major departure from military practice under Saddam’s regime, the CPA decided the NIA was to be a volunteer army. Consistent with CPA Order No. 2, CMATT began accepting volunteers with service in the old regime up through the rank of lieutenant colonel and planned to promote from within to create new general officers. (A later guideline revision allowed high-ranking former officers to return.29) The CPA also decreed that the ISF reflect the ethnic, religious, and regional diversity of the country.30

Among the first challenges CMATT faced was locating sites for the billeting and training of the NIA. The army would need infrastructure such as barracks, bases, training centers, and other facilities. Coalition bombing and Iraqi looting had damaged most of the old army’s infrastructure beyond repair. Eaton found a partially completed set of military facilities near the town of Kirkush in the eastern part of the country. Although some structures and roads existed, the facilities did not have electricity, water, sewage, and other necessities. With the help of the 937th Engineer Group, CMATT hired an Iraqi firm to build the facilities. The Iraqis based their construction standards on the Army’s well known Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany.31 Eaton continued this practice throughout his time in Iraq, employing Iraqis to build other garrisons and provide support services whenever possible to foster growth in the economy.32

Recruiting took place in Baghdad, Mosul, and Basrah as CMATT sought to create an ethnically balanced force. About 60 percent of all the recruits had prior military service, but the quality of their training varied greatly. While most officers were educated and had previous military experience, enlisted soldiers had little military training. The CPA tried to vet all recruits, and officers endured a competitive selection process which included individual interviews, questionnaires, and background checks.33 Former members of the SRG, members of the intelligence services, senior level officials of the Baath Party, people affiliated with terrorist organizations, and anyone with human rights violations or crimes against humanity were prohibited from entering the Iraqi forces.34 CMATT intended for all recruits to be literate, but placed more importance on the physical fitness of the new soldiers.35 In the early phases of the effort, it took CMATT 1,000 recruits to produce an active battalion of 757 soldiers.36

The NIA was to be a national force that included all of Iraq’s religious and ethnic groups. Units were purposefully staffed to ensure that Shias, Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and other groups were represented in each Army battalion. Slocombe explained, “The idea was that the units should be integrated and that you should implement blunt, no kidding, affirmative action. So that it was not coincidence that you had a battalion commander, deputy commander, and a chief of staff, one was a Shia, one was a Sunni, and one was a Kurd.”37 Further, in the spirit of creating a national army, soldiers could be deployed anywhere throughout Iraq rather than allowing a soldier to remain near his hometown.38

In July 2003 the US Government bolstered CMATT’s effort by sending a team of contractors from the Vinnell Corporation to Iraq. Composed of retired Army and Marine Corps personnel, the contractor team was supposed to begin planning and preparations to train the new army.39 The Vinnell contract provided planners, operations officers, unit trainers, and translators, but the US Government had not asked the company to provide drill instructors—the trainers who work directly with military recruits to instill fundamental skills and knowledge. Instead, CMATT assumed that US and Coalition forces would provide the Soldiers to serve as drill sergeants for the NIA’s basic training. CENTCOM, however, never tasked that mission to CJTF-7 and the drill sergeants did not materialize until much later. At this point CMATT faced a significant problem. While its staff had grown to 18, it was still far too small to provide drill sergeants from within its own organization.40 Assistance came from the Coalition partners. The British and Australian Army each provided four senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and officers to support the basic training mission. CMATT would also get seven US officers from the 3d Infantry Division (3d ID) for a 2-week period that summer. This mix of Americans, Britons, and Australians were the sum total of uniformed, military personnel available to CMATT in July 2003, and they worked tirelessly to find recruits and supplies so that training could begin.41 Major General Eaton credits them with saving the program from collapse.

Eaton also reached out to former Iraqi leaders but enjoyed less success in this initiative. He requested 45 former Iraqi officers, identified by Coalition units around the country, to report to Kirkush as leaders of the new training program. They arrived on 15 July 2003, but Eaton had to fire them all within a week when they declined to serve as trainers, and refused to work without restoration of their former rank, increased pay, and better accommodations.42 Despite this setback, CMATT managed to get 1,000 Iraqi recruits to Kirkush to begin the first basic training session for the NIA on 2 August 2003, actually in advance of CPA Order No. 22, “Creation of a New Iraqi Army,” issued on 7 August 2003. From recruiting stations in Mosul, Basrah, and Baghdad, the new Iraqi soldiers arrived via civilian buses, escorted by Major Geoff Fuller, Major Trey Johnson, and Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Hayward of the CMATT staff.43

The training of the new recruits and units focused on fundamental skills, leadership, membership in a multiethnic team, and orientation to the military service. Whenever possible, CMATT used Iraqis to train Iraqis. During their initial training, soldiers learned individual tasks while units concentrated on low-level collective training featuring operations in both rural and urban terrain. The training produced recruits with basic leadership and individual skills, as well as units that could conduct a small number of tactical operations in a proficient manner.44

The enlisted soldiers of the first Iraqi battalion graduated from training at Kirkush on 4 October 2003, and the second battalion graduated from a rebuilt base in Taji, just north of Baghdad, on 6 January 2004, a date recognized as Iraqi Army Day. After graduation, some of the soldiers stayed at the academy to help teach while others began their careers in the NIA. By late January 2004 CMATT had trained the enlisted soldiers of the first three battalions of the NIA.

CMATT was making slow progress but its capacity was very limited. To expand and speed up its training, Eaton had to look beyond the assets available to CJTF-7, the CPA, and even CENTCOM. Toward the end of August 2003, while visiting Jordan to find much needed equipment, Eaton witnessed the country’s military forces in action: “I observed the Jordanian Army and I really liked what I saw. I saw sergeants and lieutenant colonels engaging with their Vice Chairman, with very senior officers. They were talking, they were expressing their opinions, they had a dialogue going . . . so I think, ‘These guys can help us.’”45 Eaton spoke to the Jordanian Chief of Training about assisting CMATT train up to 2,000 Iraqi officers. King Abdullah II quickly approved the request.46 A Jordanian Princess—also a colonel in the army—provided assistance with the recruiting and training of Iraqi women, including a contingent of 75 women who trained as police officers in the Jordan police academy.47 Colonel Kim Smith, a British Army officer, served as CMATT’s liaison officer in Jordan.48

The initial set of Iraqi battalions did not have the capability of mounting operations because they lacked a cadre of trained officers and NCOs. The creation of this corps of officers and NCOs was occurring separately from the training of the enlisted soldiers. CMATT had screened roughly 750 Iraqi officers, from lieutenant to general, and then sent them to Jordan for training in late December. Similarly, 750 NCOs were in training at the new NCO Academy in Taji.49 CMATT planned to form successive battalions of the NIA by taking officer–NCO cohorts from these two schools and linking them up with recruits after basic training. But funding delays at the DOD in the fall and winter of 2003/2004 prevented CMATT from meeting its plan. Eaton could not remain on schedule in the construction of more bases, and this delayed the start of basic training for the 7th Battalion of the NIA for a number of months.

From the beginning of their mission, Eaton and others at CMATT recognized that the Iraqi forces would need continued training and mentoring if they were to accomplish their missions. Out of this realization came a plan to assign a 10-man advisory team to each battalion after it completed basic training. In mid-September the CMATT staff submitted a Joint Manning Document (JMD) request to the US Joint Staff for action. Because Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had ordered the acceleration of NIA training on 5 September 2003, the CMATT JMD requested a large number of advisory teams. The new plan, called Phase II, moved the deadline for the fielding of the first three divisions from September 2006 to September 2004. While DOD had accelerated the overall schedule, the US Army and Marine Corps still required 6 months to locate, train, and deploy the advisory teams. The first advisory teams were not sent to Iraq until March 2004; they joined their units 1 month later.50 Part of the challenge of getting advisors into the CMATT program was that in June 2003, the US Armed Services had just begun to fill CENTCOM’s demands for advisors to serve in Task Force (TF) Phoenix—the program to build a new Afghan Army. Planning for that effort had begun in the fall of 2002. The demands of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) and OIF were putting significant strain on both the Army and the Marine Corps to sustain the ever-increasing need for personnel.

Equipping the newly-trained Iraqi soldiers created other challenges. It was both extraordinarily difficult and expensive to use Saddam-era material because most of Iraq’s old equipment was outdated, broken, or stolen in the looting. CMATT had a woefully inadequate budget of $173 million in its start-up stage, and a large portion of its funds were already allocated to rebuilding the barracks and training facilities. Further, to boost the Iraqi economy, the CPA required that all purchases for the NIA be channeled through Iraqi sources. Thus, Eaton admitted, the uniforms and boots CMATT issued to the initial Iraqi soldiers were of low quality.51

Once CMATT trained and equipped the recruits, their battalions joined Coalition forces in the fight despite the CPA’s original intent to have these units avoid internal security missions. The 4th Infantry Division (4th ID) operating in the Sunni Triangle employed the first battalion, the 1st AD in Taji employed the second battalion, while the third battalion deployed to Mosul with the 101st Airborne Division (101st ABN). Coalition leaders viewed the fielding of these initial Iraqi units as a watershed moment, one that marked the birth of a new kind of professional soldier in Iraq. At the graduation of the first battalion in October 2003, Ambassador Bremer remarked, “Gone is the brutality of the old regime. The New Iraqi Army will be responsible to its citizens and will serve to protect Iraq from external threats.”52

*In September 2005, responsibility for advising the Ministries of Defense and Interior was turned over to the MNSTC-I.

Chapter 11. Training the Iraqi Security Forces

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