Brothers In Arms
In Fallujah, U.S. Marine advisers are trying to develop a few good men
FALLUJAH, IRAQ--For two nights in a row, shadowy gunmen took a few potshots at the Iraqi soldiers that 1st Lt. Khalid Abdul Rahman Muhamad sent on patrol through Fallujah's Jolan district. That's hardly an uncommon occurrence, and typically, Muhamad would just report the incidents to U.S. marines tasked with securing the northwest section of this restive city. But this time, for the first time, Muhamad turned to Marine Corps Maj. Larry Huggins and offered his own plan to rout out the insurgents with a nighttime raid.
That may not seem like much of a development, but even such a nascent show of initiative is taken as evidence of progress. It is just what the U.S. military is hoping to encourage through a nationwide experiment that is putting small deployments of American troops alongside their Iraqi counterparts to provide around-the-clock training, support, and encouragement. In fortified outposts here, for the past four months, Huggins and his team of advisers have lived and worked with the jundi , Arabic for soldiers, of the 2nd Brigade of the Iraqi Intervention Force, a division of the Iraqi Army. The concept is that having marines constantly work with Iraqis will build up strong Iraqi forces faster than can be done through the conventional combination of classroom training, exercises, and occasional joint patrols. And since the Bush administration links U.S. military withdrawal to the readiness of Iraqi defense forces, U.S. soldiers and marines see success in this style of training as America's best hope for a ticket out of Iraq.
Still, no one should underestimate the challenges. While some former Saddam Hussein-era soldiers have joined the force, many Iraqi recruits have no military background. In any event, American officers are trying to create a fresh mind-set along with a functional structure. Under Saddam, for instance, there was no seasoned corps of noncommissioned officers, the senior enlisted soldiers who enforce discipline and direct training for lower-ranking soldiers. In the old Army, officers gave orders, unresponsive to feedback from below. The Americans hope to model the new Iraqi Army on the U.S. military, yet that adds to the enormity of the task.
Training wheels. The past four months, the Marine advisers in Fallujah acknowledge, have been a slow crawl. Even the simple things--like getting Iraqis to pay attention on guard duty or refrain from shopping while on patrol--have been difficult to accomplish. So Muhamad's initiative was regarded as something of a breakthrough; it was the first time that one of the company leaders had identified a problem and proposed a solution. Huggins agreed with Muhamad's assessment: There was a likely problem with insurgents in the Jolan district. Huggins urged Muhamad to refine the plan with his platoon leaders and then take it to the commander of the 2nd Battalion, Col. Raed Jasem Edan. Behind the scenes, Huggins was working to get backing for Muhamad's plan--a fairly basic nighttime operation that would establish a line of jundi and then send a patrol to draw fire and flush the gunmen from their positions toward the waiting cordon of soldiers. "This is the first time the training wheels will be coming off," Huggins says.