Training the Iraqi Army


Click the photograph to view the slideshow of Iraqi soldiers in the 4th Brigade conducting training at Forward Operating Base Lion.

MOSUL, IRAQ: While Iraqi and Coalition forces make the deadly headlines with battles against al Qaeda and its insurgent allies here in Mosul, the day-to-day life in the city often goes unnoticed. In eastern Mosul, the city is still alive despite the occasional roadside bomb and suicide and car bombings. The markets remain open. The streets are packed with people. Electricity and running water exist in much of the eastern half of the city. Children continue to go to school. Construction is ongoing. There are even sanitation workers that pick up trash in some areas.

In Mosul, the Iraqi Army also lives a dual existence. As the Iraqi Army conducts operations to dismantle the terror networks in the city, it also builds for the future. The 4th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Army Division seeks to expand its ranks while developing its noncommissioned officers, the backbone of any modern military. This is a difficult task to manage while fighting a brutal insurgency, but a necessary one as a professional army is required to successfully fight an insurgency.

To achieve these goals, the 4th Brigade has recruited its own soldiers, started an in-house training program, and plans to conduct its own training course for its noncommissioned officers.

The 4th Brigade has signed up more than 600 recruits and is waiting to put them through basic training. Brigadier General Noor Aldeen personally recruited these soldiers and wanted to put them through the brigade’s own training course, but the Ministry of Defense denied the request. The US advisers of the Military Transition Team suggested the recruits go through the Army’s training course, as they would be issued weapons and a uniform, as well as receive more advanced training.

But slots in the Army’s basic training course are hard to come by as the course is filled. While the 4th Brigade conducted their recruiting drive months ago, the recruits are still waiting to make it to the training course. To keep the recruits from remaining idle, the 4th Brigade designed a three-week training course to prepare the future soldiers for basic training. The recruits were brought to Forward Operating Base Lion, issued a uniform and boots, and assigned to units for their pre-basic training. The brigade pays for the uniforms, boots, and the salaries for the recruits.

The recruits are trained in marching, drill and ceremony, and basic weapons handling and maintenance. These are the same skills taught to US soldiers during their first week of basic training, said Master Sergeant Tony Reese, the adviser to the 4th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Army Division’s sergeant major. “They get in a lot of PT (physical training)” to harden them for their upcoming basic training course, said Reese. The US advisers often conduct PT with the Iraqi soldiers, Reese said. “We’ll call cadence and they eat it up.”

The recruits start physical training at 7 AM, break for breakfast than train up until 7 or 8 PM. “If they won’t go to sleep, the sergeants will take them back outside,” Reese said. The shouts of the recruits responding to orders barked from their instructors can be heard at all hours of the night here at Forward Operating Base Lion.

The recruits are split up into platoons of about 20. Each platoon has a sergeant, and one recruit is designated as a platoon leader to march the troops and also develop his leadership skills. A sergeant major is assigned to drill each platoon. “They have come a long way for recruits,” said the 4th Brigade’s Sergeant Major Neajrvan, the senior noncommissioned officer for the brigade who also trains one of the platoons.

Neajrvan is a serious, professional soldier with five years of experience in working directly with US forces. He has attended a course to develop his skills as a sergeant major, and has received training from Special Forces teams and the Military Transition Team advisers. This is knowledge he hopes to pass on this new trainees. “Our goal is to teach them discipline and to respect the officers and NCOs,” he said. “When they get to their units they will be soldiers. I teach everything I have learned from the US advisers to my soldiers. I will train my soldiers until they will be like me, know what I know.”

Neajrvan has plans to expand the battalion-level training from the recruits to the unit’s professional soldiers. “After the new recruits head to basic training, we’ll open a course for our NCOs to develop their skills,” he said as the trainees march in the background.

The noncommissioned officer is the backbone of the modern army, and their development is critical to the long term success of the Iraqi military. In Saddam Hussein’s Army, noncommissioned officers had little responsibility, and all of the direction flowed from officers, who often did little to develop or care for their soldiers.

Evidence the NCOs are beginning to assert themselves can be seen at Forward Operating Base Lion. The battalions are now making their troops conduct “police call” – picking the trash that litters the base. The battalions and companies are becoming more competitive as the NCOs begin to assert themselves. “Our NCOs are beginning to step up,” said Neajrvan. These are the fundamentals that make a professional soldier and a professional military, said Reese.

The US advisers hope the pre-basic course and the future NCO course will transition the Iraqi Army from a group of fighters to a professional military. “I have no doubt these guys are fighters,” said Lieutenant Colonel Eric Price, the leader of the 4th Brigade’s Military Transition Team. “They will fight. They are brave. They run to the sound of gunfire. They aren’t good soldiers yet, but they are slowing becoming good soldiers.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Alex says:

    I have a feeling that Iraq is going to have quite the military when all is said and done.

  • David Tate says:

    Excellent reports. Too mundane for the MSM, but very neccesary to understanding the whole picture. Major kudos, my friend.

  • Neo says:

    What is striking from the last few reports from your last few reports from Mosul is that the individual units in the field are much more advanced at this point than their coordinating command. The Ninewa Operation Command seems to be a relatively new adventure for the Iraqi’s. Please tell me if I am wrong, but I don’t recall the Iraqi’s having this level of control coordinating multiple units anywhere other than Baghdad. The units may feel the command is getting in the way but this level of coordination is something they are all going to have to learn. Getting people to perform at their level of command, and letting others do their jobs seems to be an issue at this point. It’s hard to always be helpful to others if you’re still trying to figure out your own job.
    People are feeling their way around a bit. Unit commanders, operational command, and US advisers seem to be kicking at each others heals a bit in ways that are not always productive. Keeping politics, egos, and personal styles out of the way as much as possible will be a constant challenge. The central government does eventually have to impose some sort of central command on the Army throughout Iraq. These first seem rather clumsy. Hopefully the command structure is a work in progress rather than the central government standing at political odds with the units of the Army. It seems to be a little of both are the case here, so hopefully the former dominates.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    IA Operational Commands in order formed:
    – Baghdad Operational Command
    – Diyala Operational Command
    – Basrah Operational Command
    – Karbala Operational Command
    – Samarra Operational Command
    – DhiQar Operational Command
    – Ninawa Operational Command
    – Anbar Operational Command (to be formed)
    As MNSTC-I puts it, these are intermediate steps to establishing Corps commands. The first one (BOC) was operational in May07.
    And this is the first one that has had major grumbling. One possible hickup out of seven is not bad…

  • Michael says:

    Is the hiccup due to Mosul’s long time independence? If I remember correctly, they were trained long before the others for COIN and independent operations, correct? Or, to think more for themselves.
    Or is this just personality issues.
    Good reports Bill!

  • Neo says:

    Thanks for expanding my view. I hadn’t realized they had quite that many of the regional commands up and running. I had seen the information but sometimes the significance of such details escapes my civilian brain.
    “And this is the first one that has had major grumbling. One possible hickup out of seven is not bad…”

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the – Web Reconnaissance for 03/19/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

  • @thepointyend says:

    Michael – I’d say that the independence enjoyed by the IA in Mosul is certainly a part of the current strain. In many ways, the NOC are seen as outsiders, coming to apply a “Baghdad solution” to a Moslowi problem. I have heard this many times from senior officers here, many of whom have been fighting to protect the city since the end of the war and do not see the need to have a new commander come in and set things right. However, if the NOC eventually lives up to the potential shown in past OC efforts, these tensions will probably ease. There is great strength in having a single command to coordinate the activities of the Army, Police, and Border Enforcement forces. But eventually, that coordination has to become more than just the issuance of directives and has to include coordinating the support that all of these forces need from the central government to man, train and equip their forces.

  • @thepointyend says:

    Bill –

    A great piece that captures what would be mundane in my own Army, but is a sign of incredible things to come for the IA. The changes that I’ve seen in only six short months…

    The key here is the commander’s focus on two seemingly simple things: training and equipment. Taken at face value, those two areas seem daunting. It is only when the commander puts that into context that it begins to appear achievable. Provide soldiers the necessary equipment (uniforms, weapons, etc.) and provide them with even the simplest trainging in order to make them look and feel like soldiers. Eventually, that will lead them to act like soldiers. And eventually that will lead them to react, and to lead others – like soldiers. Was the introduction to the Army (or any other service) really any different for us?

    The depth of that simple request from the commander – help me with training and equipping – shows his depth as a leader and his understanding of how to build and sustain an organization.

    And achieving that is my ultimate goal here.

  • anand says:

    Thank you @thepointyend. Thank you for your service. And thank you and your fellow soldiers for the amazing job you have done training and equipping 2nd IAD (and MG Kirshad’s 3rd IAD for the GIs of western Ninevah.)
    One piece of good new is Mouta’a’s promotion to MG. This is a sign that MoD and IGFC are starting to recognize his capability, record, and popularity within Ninevah. This promotion will be well recieved by Moslowis and the brave soldiers of 2nd IAD (and hopefully ease tension with the nascent NiOC.)
    @thepointyend, Bill reported that 55% of 2nd IAD is Kurdish. If 90% of IA 4-2 is Kurdish, that implies that 43% or so of the rest of 2nd IAD is Kurdish . . . which is about the ratio of Kurds in Ninevah province (35% or so.) This suggests that 2nd IAD’s soldiers are pretty representative of Ninevah province.
    Any word yet on the new Ninevah provincial IP chief? Is it too soon to assess how he is doing? The Ninevah provincial IP seem to rely heavily on 2nd and 3rd IADs.
    DJ, greater Mosul could use some wheeled armored vehicles. I suspect that 2nd IAD will one or more wheeled mechanized armored cavalry battalions, to free up IA 2-9 and IA 4-9 to redeploy elsewhere.
    Tracked mech might be better suited for less populated desert areas. However, wheels might be a better fit for greater Mosul.

  • anand says:
    “General Mutaa said that 56 of his units’ vehicles have been destroyed, and a third of their remaining 178 vehicles are broken.”
    I think that MG Mutaa and his soldiers are operating well subject to their resource constraints. And they are planning and solving Iraqi problems Iraqi style.
    The strategy session from the article seems to have been a good idea generation session. It later needs to be refined by more precise and operational planning. But free flow discussion seems to be important (even when many of the ideas are impractical due to resource constraints.)
    As many of the readers here know, I have felt that we (America) should have provided the MoD with a lot more financial support since 2003 . . . and not waited for the GoI to provide funding, leadership and direction.
    Just imagine what Ninevah would be if Kirshad and Muta’a had more vehicles, spare parts, ammunition and logistics support.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Mix of reasons probably.
    – The loss of independence by the Div Cmdrs.
    – The Baghad style fix for a Mosul problem.
    – The promotion of another Div Cmdr over the 2nd. (NiOC is commanded by the recently promoted, former 9th IA Div Cmdr.)
    – Personnalities.
    And then the new NiOC Cmdr could be using the time honored technic of coming in as a hardcase and loosening up later when he has proper measure of his Corps…
    On the subject of armor. An interesting coincidence has been noticed:
    – Eight OCs
    – Eight battalions of BTR3E1s being purchased
    – And the first thing the new NiOC Cmdr did was steal a bn from 2IA for security/QRF.
    Corps subordinate QRFs…
    Note: I use NiOC for Ninawa because NOC already existed. The PM’s National Operations Center…

  • @thepointyend says:

    anand –
    I think that two of the brigades are mostly Kurdish, while two are more balanced. The division headquarters also appears to be balanced between Kurd and Arab.

    I’ve had no real interaction with the IP chief as LTG Riyadh has made it clear to the brigade’s that interaction with the IP general is the responsibility of the division and the NOC. The brigade does have contacts with several of the IP colonels scattered throughout the region and Noor Aldeen had a very good relationship with BG Wathiq.

  • anand says:

    Thanks @thepointyend.
    To everyone else,
    1-2 and 4-2 started out as local national guards for Dahuk and Irbil (2 of the 3 Kurdish provinces from the “Barzani” part of Kurdistan.)
    2-2 and 3-2 were local national guards for eastern Ninevah province. They are pretty ethnically diverse.
    @thepointyend, please let me repeat . . . I don’t expect you to answer any of my questions. The last thing I want to do is get you into trouble.
    In general, my questions would be:
    1) 2nd IAD combat enablers (previous comments)
    2) are the Ninevah IP improving
    3) what public source plans are there to upgrade 2nd IAD’s vehicles
    4) I presume that plans for the mortar fire bns (for each IA brigade) have been pushed back.
    5) When is Ninevah PIC projected? What additional resources do the IA and IP in Ninevah need for them to assume PIC? (It looks to me like Ninevah could go to PIC right now if the ISF in Ninevah had more vehicles, weapons, spare parts and maintenenance.)

  • @thepointyend says:

    anand –

    The division’s enablers have made steady progress and are contributing daily to the fight. Much work yet to be done in the area of self-sustainment however.

    Not much in the way of visibility on the IP. I’ve heard infiltration rates are high and know that they continue to suffer great casualties at the hands of the UE, but first hand experience is very limited – really no more than passing them on the street or seeing them cordon and objective for us.

    I haven’t seen anything on upgrading the division’s fleet, other than eventually getting better armored HMMWVs.

    I haven’t heard any disucssion about fires since prior to my deployment and I’m not sure that we really need that capability right now given the type of fight we’re in. It might be useful out west, but would probably only hurt public relations here in the city.

    PIC? Your guess is as good as mine. But having more ‘stuff’ won’t get them there much quicker. The ISF has to develop systems to sustain their operations and maintain their equipment. They are not there yet.

  • This is great stuff. Thanks for providing all of us with some real news about what is going on everyday in Iraq.


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