Disbanding the Iraqi Army ... A Good Idea?


Reasonably well-led, adequately armed with light weapons and competent in a stand-up fight, yet constrained by internal and external factors, the 10th Division is typical of Iraqi Army formations - and its progress over the years parallels that of non-police Iraqi forces in general. Since the total disbanding of the Iraqi Army in 2003, coalition trainers have painstakingly recruited and trained up more than 129,000 Iraqi troops in 10 divisions, slowly transforming a slouching mob into an army that, by regional standards, isn't half bad.
178564593_352eef11c7.jpgSo begins my profile of the Basra-based Iraqi Army 10th Division over at Military.com. Between the lines is this controversial claim: that the total disbanding of the Iraqi Army in the wake of their 2003 defeat wasn't the critical failure that others have claimed.The best treatment of this debate remains Michael Gordon's 2004 piece in The New York Times, in which he calls the decision to disband "one of the most contentious issues of the post-war."
Mr. [Walter] Slocombe [an aide to Paul Bremer] argues that the move was necessary to establish an Iraqi military that was not tainted by corruption and was acceptable to ethnic groups that had long been repressed by Saddam Hussein's military. He also says that it was the only possible course because so many Iraqi soldiers had fled their posts and drifted back into the population and military bases had been picked clean by looters.
I agree. These days, the Iraqi Army is our best ally in the fight against insurgents, criminals and terrorists in Iraq. The army is only this good because they're not the army we defeated in 2003.(The Army's counterparts in the police force are very nearly insurgents themselves, they're so corrupt and inept. Note that the police force never got disbanded and rebuilt the way the army did.)On the other hand, the time it took to rebuild the Iraqi Army was a window for the insurgency to gain strength. And, as Gordon explains, the move had a moral effect:
"It was absolutely the wrong decision," said Col. Paul Hughes of the Army, who served as an aide to Jay Garner, a retired three-star general and the first civilian administrator of Iraq. "We changed from being a liberator to an occupier with that single decision,'' he said. "By abolishing the army, we destroyed in the Iraqi mind the last symbol of sovereignty they could recognize and as a result created a significant part of the resistance."
I see Hughes' point, but I remain convinced that disbanding the Iraqi Army was the only way to ever have a good Iraqi Army.What do you think?--David Axe
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