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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


Iraqi Forces Join the Fight

In the spring of 2004, while the Coalition was overhauling the ISF training efforts, the NIA suffered an embarrassing failure when the Coalition sent one of the Iraqi battalions hastily into combat. On 31 March four contractors from Blackwater USA, a private company providing logistics security to the CPA, traveling in two vehicles were ambushed and killed in the Sunni Arab city of Fallujah. The killers strung up their charred corpses on a nearby bridge. The grisly scene, televised in the United States and around the world, elicited calls for a strong US response. At about the same time, Shia militia groups under the firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr rose up in defiance of the Coalition in several cities to the southeast of Baghdad. In April 2004, after a few months of relative calm and in the midst of the massive rotation of forces into and out of Iraq, the Coalition suddenly faced the greatest level of resistance to its occupation since the invasion a year before.

Over the objections of US Marine Corps commanders, who had recently taken over the sector that included Fallujah from the 82d Airborne Division (82d ABN), the CPA ordered CJTF-7 to attack Fallujah to find those responsible and destroy the growing insurgent cells in the city. In response, Lieutenant General Sanchez directed the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) to create a plan for the assault, and the Marines launched Operation VIGILANT RESOLVE with four Marine infantry battalions, supported by significant amounts of Marine airpower and artillery, into Fallujah on 5 April 2004. US forces encountered intense enemy resistance as they entered the city.

On the first day of the offensive, CJTF-7 ordered the 2d Battalion of the NIA, then operating with the 1st AD north of Baghdad in Taji, to join the Marine operation in Fallujah. The Iraqi unit was to man checkpoints and form a cordon around the city. Of the five companies in the battalion, two were on leave. The three companies on duty boarded trucks for the move accompanied by a new 10-man CMATT advisor team from the US Marines. As they drove through a Shia neighborhood in Baghdad, a large crowd stopped them and accosted them about the immorality of attacking fellow Iraqis.109 After shots rang out and seven Iraq soldiers were wounded, the convoy returned to camp. CJTF-7 then provided helicopters to move the Iraqi companies to Fallujah later that night.

But by that time, the unit had begun to dissolve as groups of soldiers refused to take part in an operation that would pit them against other Iraqis. Major General Eaton recalled the situation:

At the Pickup Zone, in the dark, blades turning on several CH-47s, about 70 Iraqi Soldiers became demonstrably upset. . . . the situation was chaotic and the senior Marine, Major Chris Davis, called me to inform me of what was going on. . . . Major Davis indicated he was about to stand the unit down, and ultimately did so. I met him at dawn the next morning after a dangerous trip from Baghdad to review the situation. We dismissed the 70 Iraqi soldiers who were the greatest problem, and changed out three company commanders and the battalion commander, replacing them from within the battalion.110

As the situation developed, Iraqi troops began to voice the following complaint: “We enlisted to fight enemies from outside Iraq, not our own people.”111

The 2d Battalion of the NIA was not the only Iraqi force to face serious problems in April 2004. During the uprisings of that month, many ICDC units disintegrated under contact with insurgent and militia forces, especially when left to operate on their own. The intensity of the fighting exposed the weakness of their limited military training, support institutions, and the ethnic basis on which they had been recruited. Even the specially trained multiethnic 36th Battalion, sent to Fallujah in April 2004, lost many of its Soldiers to desertion after only a few days of action. Sunni soldiers in the unit refused to engage in combat against Sunni insurgents, Shia soldiers balked at being used for offensive operations, and Kurds formed the core of those who remained. The CJSOTF pulled the battalion out of action in May and it later was reconstituted as the 36th Commando Battalion, a founding element of the Iraqi Special Operations Brigade, and eventually one of the most competent units in the ISF.112 In mid-2004, as will be discussed later in this chapter, MNSTC-I incorporated the ICDC effort into the regular army training program recognizing that the future role of these units in Iraq would be a military one and would require the appropriate level of military training and support.

After its embarrassing refusal to fight during Operation VIGILANT RESOLVE, the NIA redeemed itself in November 2004 when it participated in Operation AL FAJR, the second battle of Fallujah. Five Iraqi infantry battalions joined the combined Marine and Army offensive that destroyed the resistance in the city. Iraqi forces secured and cleared parts of Fallujah with US forces, and conducted reconnaissance and surveillance missions around the city.113 US Army Staff Sergeant Bryan Reed, a member of the AST working with the unit, explained that Iraqi forces were eager to return to Fallujah and demonstrate their abilities. Reed asserted, “They wanted to come back here. They had something to prove.”114 The Iraqis did prove themselves up to the demands of combat, losing 6 soldiers and taking 55 casualties in their effort. Demonstrating that CMATT advisors not only trained their Iraqi counterparts but also fought alongside them in combat, Staff Sergeant Todd Cornell was killed in action by insurgent small arms fire while fighting with his Iraqi soldiers on a rooftop in Fallujah.115

There were other signs of improvement in the NIA’s performance in 2004. As they became better trained and equipped, as more US advisors were assigned to NIA units, and as the interim government took ownership of the ISF after 28 June 2004, the new forces became more involved in Coalition operations. One excellent example of increasing ISF capabilities was Iraqi involvement in Operation BATON ROUGE. Mounted by the 1st ID in the summer and fall of 2004, the operation’s objective was to return the city of Samarra to Coalition and Iraqi control. Like Fallujah, the city had become a safe haven for Sunni insurgents after the 202d ING Battalion and Iraqi police had been driven out in the spring of 2004.

In the summer of 2004, the 2d BCT of the 1st ID began Operation BATON ROUGE, a sustained full spectrum operation in which Iraqi units played an important role. The 1st ID and the 2d BCT specifically rebuilt the 202d ING Battalion from the ground up to include training and equipping new recruits and leaders at a forward operating base (FOB) constructed by the division support command (DISCOM), the 167th Corps Support Group, and the 264th Combat Engineer Group outside the city. The 7th Battalion of the Iraqi Army also joined the division in training for BATON ROUGE at the FOB.

After 3 months of operations to encircle and isolate the city, limited strikes to kill and capture insurgent forces, and several failed negotiations, the IIG ordered an assault on 28 September 2006. In just over 2 days of combat in early October, the 2d BCT of the 1st ID, the 202d ING Battalion, and the 7th Iraqi Army Battalion killed or wounded 185 and captured 128 insurgents. Inclusion of Iraqis in this battle was imperative because it sent an important message to the Iraqi people that their own army was capable of fighting in a disciplined, professional manner. Iraqi forces also played a critical role in defusing potentially explosive cultural issues by being the only Coalition military elements allowed to enter sensitive areas such as the Golden Mosque, a shrine in the center of Samarra of great importance to both Sunni and Shia Muslims. Further, the ISF provided effective human intelligence (HUMINT) to US forces as they moved into the city.116 While not yet ready for independent action or to take responsibility for security in parts of Iraq, the Iraqi Army, National Guard, and police forces were demonstrating their growing capabilities.

Chapter 11. Training the Iraqi Security Forces

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