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Mar 3, 2015

Train in vain: the absurd history of training the Iraqi Army

From Iran to Israel to Korea to Romania, the list of countries that have trained Iraqis since 2003 is lengthy. And none achieved anything.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Anonymous, mistakenly attributed to Einstein.

With the government set to re-announce what New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has already announced — that Australian soldiers will be returning to Iraq to help “train” Iraqi soldiers — we’re continuing a long and proud tradition of foreigners who have helped train Iraqi military and security forces since 2003.

The United States company Vinnell was given a US$48 million contract in 2003 to train 9000 Iraqi troops to replace the dismantled Iraqi Army. More than half of the Iraqi troops subsequently deserted. Jordanian Army officers were then brought in to “finish” the training. There were reports the US had established a training camp in Jordan for both Iraqi troops and Palestinian Authority security personnel.

In 2004, a NATO mission arrived in Iraq to begin training Iraqi officers. Australia sent troops as well.

In 2005, the Iraqi and Iranian governments reached an agreement for Iran to help train Iraqi troops, at the same time as the US was blaming Iran for backing the insurgency. Meantime, the Americans declared their “train and operate” strategy with the Iraqis was working. The British were training Iraqi officers at a military college in Wales. The US Air Force boasted of using women to train 700 Iraqi officers. The officers were “now operational” — “out there every day doing the mission,” one of the female officers said.

In 2006, Israelis were found helping train Kurdish militia. The former British commander in charge of training Iraqi troops launched a blistering critique of US forces. An American replied that he was an “insufferable British snob”. As the US announced it was shifting more troops from combat to training Iraqi forces, an internal Pentagon report lamented how poor and ill-informed previous training efforts had been, including complaints about the use of inexperienced National Guard members. But US military publications were reporting how Iraqi soldiers were “eager to learn” from US special forces. By that stage, a long list of private firms was training Iraqi soldiers, police and private security guards to protect facilities. US soldiers were ordered not to report the growing incidence of abuse, torture and rape by US-trained Iraqi security forces.

In 2007, US National Guard members were still training Iraqi security forces. John Howard boasted of how Australia had trained more than 12,500 Iraqi soldiers since 2003, having just increased Australia’s forces training Iraqis.

Hundreds of US police officers, working under a contract with DynCorp, helped train Iraqi security forces in Anbar province in 2008. The Pentagon called for tenders for contractors to train the Iraqi military while embedded with Iraqi units. The contractors were to supplement the Americans’ new “partnership” approach to training Iraqi forces. South Korean special forces troops were helping train Iraqi military forces too.

In 2009, US marines were training “the next generation of Iraqi soldiers”. The Romanians were in Iraq helping out. Iraqi soldiers were being trained to train others as part of a “train the trainer” course. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s elite US-trained counter-terrorism force was by then running its own jails where the rape and torture of Sunni prisoners was commonplace.

By 2014, the cost of training the Iraqi Army, which was dropping its weapons and fleeing from Islamic State across Iraq, was estimated to have been between US$20 billion and US$26 billion for the Americans alone. That’s unrelated to cost of equipping the army with weapons and vehicles, much of which ended up in IS hands.

Still, we’re not the only ones. Nearly 10 years after the last training deal, in December, Iran signed another agreement with the Iraqis to train their troops. What chance we’ll all still be there in 2025?

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24 thoughts on “Train in vain: the absurd history of training the Iraqi Army

  1. Russ Hunter

    It’s not insanity if Tony Abbott is doing this primarily for political gain. It makes Australia less safe and the subject of terrorist plots/attacks. Then he gets to bang the national security drum and present himself as the tough guy to protect us. All the while taking swipes at Muslims, inflaming these very tensions. Australia cops anti-democratic/libertarian laws out of it all.

    Abbott goes up in the polls and wins the next election.

    Sound familiar?

    Remember we went headlong into Iraq mark 2 without parliamentary debate or any coherent strategy being laid out, and we now know that Abbott considered a unilateral Australian attack.

  2. Bill Hilliger

    From the article you wrote Bernard it appears there has been a great success in achieving failure.

    The organisations that make money from training must be hoping this success of failure continues forever.

  3. Glen

    …But Einstein does appear to have said, many times and in many versions, that “God does not play dice”. In that, of course, he was seriously mistaken. In modern high energy physics, doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get exactly the same result each time would be the stuff of a complete nutter.

  4. ken svay

    What a crock this has always been. This morning we were warned that rogue Iraqis could infiltrate the army and kill our trainers, really? How do they identify recruits? Is there a functioning computer system in the country? Did not all paper records get looted or destroyed? How could the army know who they were recruiting?
    This has always been such a waste of time and money. How many Iraqi speakers amongst the trainers? Any at all?
    We would be better off sending coaches from the Institute of Sport to teach them how to run faster.

  5. Marion Wilson

    Are we selling wheat to IS yet? Andrew Robb is missing opportunities, do they want live cattle. Barnaby Joyce should go have a chat with people who really know how wars can be beneficial for farmers.

  6. Neutral

    “We trained hard — but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.”

    Petronius 66AD (for the undergrad philosophy 101 freak: just because there is no evidence in any of his works for this quote does not mean it’s irrelevant:P)

  7. John Ryan

    Just think they stupid Yanks & OZ could have avoided all this by just leaving Saddam in control,now we seem doomed to repeat the same mistake over & over again.
    If the had shot Sykes & Picot back in 1915 maybe all the madness could have been avoided

  8. Luke Hellboy

    At least American training in how to torture prisoners seemed to have paid off.

  9. a commentator from earth

    And didn’t Australia’s inevitable journey into the Vietnam war start with us sending training “advisers” to support the south vietnamese forces in the early 60s?

    I can see history repeating. Compare and contrast. Substitute muslim for communist if that helps.

  10. Lubo Gregor

    @#19 ^^^^ It makes sense why they privatised the war and got rid of the general conscription. Maybe it should be reintroduced so that the government gets a real feedback of the nation on commitments to these ventures.