So ISIS, ISIL or IS or whoever they are have been on a tear in the ol’ sandbox as of late and probably the biggest feather in their cap is taking the city of Ramadi. By all accounts it’s completely out of the Iraqi government’s hands and most people have fled, causing the city to completely collapse. Ramadi isn’t exactly an insignificant place, it’s one of the largest and most strategically important cities in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently went on record basically saying that the reason Ramadi fell is because the Iraqi Army is a bunch of pussies. This has been the general feeling out there from those of us that have dealt with them professionally, but it’s never been publically acknowledged at such a high level. Carter states that we’ve provided them with all the training and equipment they needed to be successful but the missing ingredient is the Iraqis’ will to fight.
I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately because I have an interview with a guy who dealt with the Afghan Army coming up for another project I do and this article seemed to pop up at the right time.
So when I was in Iraq we had a company of Iraqi Army guys in the town we occupied. We didn’t have the national police guys because shortly after we took over, “ali baba” (the insurgents) rushed their compound and executed about thirty of them and they never came back. We had to work with the ING (Iraqi National Guard) quite often, like manning checkpoints with them, checking in on their compounds during patrols, seeing them out and about and/or having them do simple jobs during our operations. Sometimes they would come to our base, but we would keep some distance.
They made TERRIBLE soldiers. The average 18 year old American kid that shows up to boot camp is probably more “locked on” after three days than most of these guys. No discipline, no desire to seek self-improvement and completely unreliable. Honestly I worried more about getting ‘accidentally’ shot from these guys more than the *real* bad guys. Worst of all, they had no balls. They were afraid to show their faces, they were afraid to leave their compound, always running away from the fight, never showing up for duty and completely unreliable when they did.
These guys acted like a bunch of armed children. I remember one time explaining to one ING guy at a checkpoint I was running with the “help” of a few of them that I was going to punch him in the face if he didn’t shape up – and I meant it. They had no military bearing and pretty much spent their time playing grab-ass, lots of stupid “hey mistah! ficky-ficky! (like sex)” jokes.
Obviously we didn’t hold these guys in very high esteem. When we would find out that they took casualties, there would be a completely calloused attitude towards it, like they weren’t even human.
After thinking about it a bit more, I realized that these guys were the lowest common denominator of society, morally and professionally. We destroyed their economy so it’s not like there was a whole lot of opportunity anyways, but these were mostly guys that just needed the paycheck without *really* wanting to make the sacrifice. Morally speaking, well, let’s say someone invaded the US Red Dawn style or something… What kind of people would want to get in with the occupiers, even if we were more benign than some other historical occupations? You have to be kind of scummy at least to sign on with the “other side”. So basically you have people that would be the equivalent of door-to-door vacuum salesmen in the US with a sadistic streak heavily armed and charged with carrying out some of the security duties in a war zone.
While we questioned their meddle for being easily spooked, the reality was that we had nothing at stake except for ourselves. What I mean by that is that our families were safe and sound half the world away and we knew there would be a day when we would go back and Iraq would be on the other side of the planet. If we died, that was the worst they could do to us. The ING guys had their families in Iraq and it wasn’t uncommon at all to come home and find their wives, children, etc. killed if they were found out to be in with the Americans. I remember some insurgents basically setting up a checkpoint on a major highway searching vehicles for signs of collaboration and killing people on the spot. Knowing that your family could very likely get killed for your actions could really take the wind out of your sails. Although little threats of terrorists plotting attacks on military families ran through the rumor mill, that was definitely not something we had to deal with and as a society we’re still completely detached from war like the way some other societies experienced it up close and personal. It’s hard to really get down on these guys when you take their situation at the home front into consideration.
I thought it was kind of funny that the regular people in Iraq trusted us a lot more than they trusted the ING. They knew that we probably wouldn’t mistreat them and that most of our dealings would be above board. Those guys would abuse their power and they were very corrupt. In fact, one town that we dealt with had a protest when the Marines were leaving and put the ING in charge. The gist was “please don’t leave us to the mercy of these shitheads”. We were at least regarded as professionals, sometimes even admirable, while these guys not so much. People weren’t afraid to approach us, whereas they were to approach them due to powerlust or just simply being frightened. I remember one time when the ING called us to do their heavy lifting – because an old man told them off and they didn’t want to deal with them.
I have to say that I did tend to like the older guys who served in Saddam’s military. They were better soldiers and more mature. They had better stories too. I think with these guys their situation was a little bit different because they were soldiers by trade and the ING was the only place they could take their skill and get a paycheck.
I want to say “yeah, no shit!” to Ash Carter, but we shouldn’t have been surprised it was going to wind up like this. How could we expect to disband the professional army and then hire a bunch of unemployable dudes, give them some notional training and throw them in a uniform and give them a gun and expect anything more than complete failure? I think there’s also a case of us believing our own bullshit on this one, where we came for completely altruistic reasons and that the Iraqis would be falling all over themselves to build a little slice of America right there in the middle east.
The situation is complicated and so are my feelings on the ING – do we look down on them with contempt for their shortcomings as fighting men or do we empathize with the reality of their world, being people driven by need and/or small dick syndrome into situations where they are undertrained and highly likely to get some real blowback from their neighbors in the way of having themselves and/or their families killed? Even though I haven’t had the best experiences with the ING, I would say that most of the everyday Iraqi people I encountered – the farmers, shopkeepers, mechanics, teachers, housewives, laborers, etc. had a sense of honor….and I wish them the best of luck. They’re going to need it being caught between an inept government and the ISIS extremists.