Army official: Iraqis improving, but not ready to take over
Tribal loyalties remain a challenge for Iraq’s army
Stars and Stripes
ARLINGTON, Va. — The competence of Iraq’s security forces may be “night and day” compared to six months ago, but they aren’t yet ready to take complete responsibility for safeguarding their homeland, Army Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the Iraqi Assistance Group, said Monday.
“If your question is, should the U.S. forces leave [Iraq] in the next couple of months, I’d say no, I think that’s premature, based on what we see on the ground,” Pittard told Pentagon reporters in a video teleconference from Iraq.
The 3,000 U.S. servicemembers who are training Iraq’s army, police and border patrol “are making a huge difference,” Pittard said.
But even the best trainers can’t overcome deeply rooted problems such as tribal and ethnic loyalties that can trump the newly minted security forces’ obligations to their equally new central government.
For example, on Friday, a battalion of the Iraqi army’s 10th Division in Maysan mutinied when its soldiers learned that they were going to be transferred to Baghdad to participate in Together Forward II, the ongoing effort to secure the capital city.
The soldiers, who were from the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Brigade, had been praised by their British trainers as the most professional in the province, according to a report in the London Daily Telegraph.
Pittard downplayed the incident, first saying that “there were some soldiers, I think it was about 100, who said they would not deploy as a part of the operation,” and then that “the leadership of that unit and their soldiers felt that they were needed down there in Maysan” rather than in Baghdad.
“A decision was made — a decision is going to be made as to whether or not that battalion will actually deploy,” Pittard said. “That will be worked out by the Iraqi government and the Ministry of Defense. And we’ll be in support of that [decision].”
The issue, Pittard said, is that “the Iraqi army has been a regionally recruited organization,” with soldiers recruited, trained and operating where they have lived all their lives.
Now, with Iraq security forces starting to be deployed to hotspots around the country, “it becomes more difficult,” Pittard said. “Because for many of those soldiers, they just thought that they’d be operating in their homeland areas.”
“So that is something that’s got to be tackled by the Iraqi government,” he said. “And again, we’re in support of that.”