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October 25, 2005

An Informed View of the Iraqi Army

Peter Galbraith writes to Juan Cole:

Informed Comment: Dear Professor Cole:. . .

You quoted today the Brattleboro Reformer's account of my remarks last night to the Windham World Affairs Council. You noted a transcription error in my description of the sorry state of Iraqi military and said you would seek clarification. I am happy to provide it.

I described the Iraqi Army as consisting of nine Kurdish battalions, sixty Shiite battalions, and 45 Sunni Arab battalions. There is exactly one mixed battalion. The Kurdish battalions have no Arab officers, while there are a few Kurdish and Sunni Arab officers with Shiite battalions. Being a Kurdish or Shiite officer of the Sunni Arab battalions is risky, so there are not many at all. This is hardly the picture of a national institution. I also noted that up to half the nominal troop strength consists of ghost soldiers. As there is no direct deposit in Iraq, the battalion command can pocket the salaries of soldiers that don't exist, so there is an incentive to maintain full strength on paper. More of this can be found in my October 6 article in the New York Review of Books, "Iraq's Last Chance", which also analyzes the new Constitution.

You also describe me as advocating the break up of Iraq. My position is slightly different. I argue that Iraq has already broken up, and that it will be much more costly--in terms of lives and money--to put it back together than to accept the new reality. One reason I like the new Constitution is that I believe it is realistic.

You argue that partition could lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths, but you ignore the fact that holding Iraq together has already cost well more than 100,000 lives in the various Kurdistan wars.

I also think you draw the wrong lessons from the break-up of Yugoslavia, about which I have a certain experience. The US and Europeans focused on trying to hold Yugoslavia together when there was no way to do so. Instead, US and European diplomacy should have focused on the issues that caused the war. The war was preventable; the break up was not.

I do not believe it is possible to keep people in a state they hate, and the Kurds clearly want out of Iraq. I do not think the break up of the rest of Iraq is inevitable, but it is possible.

Saddam murdered over 100,000 Kurds, used poison gas, and destroyed more than 4000 villages in Kurdistan as part of his effort to keep Iraq united. Mismanaged divorce can be costly, but so is an unwanted marriage. The human cost of holding Iraq together may be much higher than that of a negotiated separation.

All the best.

Peter Galbraith

Posted by DeLong at October 25, 2005 06:47 PM