Comment of the day: It isn’t just that Maliki is a jerk, Tom, it is also that he ousted some of his best commanders
- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Good comment here in response to my post yesterday about why Iraqi soldiers won’t fight for Maliki as hard as their enemy will fight for their own cause:
With all due respect I think your analysis doesn’t fully capture what happened here. I think many Iraqi soldiers are indeed willing to die for Maliki’s version of Iraq — the majority demographic of its total headcount is proudly sectarian Shia. The problem is that Maliki chopped up the army so much that its loyal and combat experienced junior officers and enlisted aren’t clustered together in cohesive units.
I was an advisor to the IA from 07-08 and have kept up with many of the guys I advised. Our battalion was primarily Shia and its members were (and are) supportive of Maliki. If the personnel structure of the IA were the same today as it was in summer ’08, they would have spanked ISIS in Mosul.
As America disengaged from OIF in 2009-2011, Maliki fired experienced, American-mentored division commanders and replaced them with guys who he thought were politically loyal and wouldn’t participate in a coup against him. The new division commanders (who reported directly to him in contravention to the new Iraqi constitution) then turned around and told him that he needed to reshuffle the army — specifically, by spreading the most experienced and professional guys from 1st and 7th Divs into the other divisions. They all wanted "their share" of the best soldiers.
The result of this has been that instead of an Iraqi Army whose battalions were on a Bn-by-Bn basis roughly 1/3 legitimately professional, 1/3 a bit iffy, and 1/3 Keystone Kops (situation in 2008), you have an army all of whose battalions are combat ineffective because half their dudes desert at the moment of enemy contact.
Even worse, the politically appointed division commanders fired or reassigned a lot of the experienced and relatively non-corrupt staff officers to make room for their cronies, who are criminally incompetent and/or cowardly in many cases. For example, a platoon commander I worked with in 1st IA who is now a company commander in 2nd IA (reshuffled as per above) had his entire company abandoned in a combat outpost in Mosul that was under mortar and HMG fire from ISIS — when he radioed his Bn CO, the guy said, "sit tight, we’re coming to get you". The CO then stopped answering radio traffic and calls to his personal cell phone. My buddy and his company were able to exfil to Kurdish lines – luckily their pos was on the eastern side of Mosul.
De Atkine’s "Why Arabs Lose Wars" is as pertinent as ever. I really do wonder whether there will ever be a competent Arab army that exists outside of a brutal authoritarian dictatorship.