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Iraq Transition

U.S. officer describes disarray in Iraqi army

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- In an assessment for a military journal, a U.S. Army officer who advised Iraqi troops concludes the goal of having Iraq control its security "will exceed" the new army's capability "for some time to come."

In an article for Military Review, Lt. Col. Carl D. Grunow wrote that "without steadfast American support, these officers and soldiers will likely give up and consider the entire effort a lost cause."

Grunow recounted his experience of 12 months as the senior adviser to an Iraqi army armored brigade in Taji, north of Baghdad. His stint ended in June. The article in the July-August issue of Military Review is titled "Advising Iraqis: Building the Iraqi Army."

Grunow found and grappled with several problems during his experience.

One was what he called the Iraqi "death blossom," in which any enemy attack on the soldiers "provokes the average Iraqi soldier to empty his 30-round magazine and fire whatever belt of ammunition happens to be in his machine gun."

"Ninety percent of the time, there is no target, and the soldiers always agree that this is extremely dangerous, in addition to being a grievous waste of ammunition. But they continue to do it."

Grunow also found that Iraqi soldiers were using techniques and tactics from the Iran-Iraq war, when there were "clear battle lines fought with mass military formations, and one in which civilians on the battlefield were a nuisance, not the center of gravity."

He contrasted the new Iraqi army with the one under ousted ruler Saddam Hussein.

"Iron discipline was the norm under Saddam. The lowliest lieutenant could expect instant obedience and extreme deference from his soldiers," Grunow wrote. "Today's army is very different. Unlike Saddam's, the new army serves the cause of freedom, and officers and soldiers alike are a bit confused about what this means."

Iraqis, he said, are "horrendous at keeping track of their soldiers. There are no routine accountability formations, and units typically have to wait until payday to get a semi-accurate picture of who is assigned to the unit. Because Iraqi status reports are almost always wrong, American advisers have taken to counting soldiers at checkpoints to get a sense of where combat power is distributed."

Grunow praised the Iraqi skill in dealing with a tough environment. He said that "economic sanctions and austerity have made the Iraqis outstanding improvisers" and they "display great ingenuity with maintenance operations."

One trait of Iraqis is that they are "fatalistic, surrendering their future to the will of Allah. This explains how they can continue to function despite daily car bombings, atrocities and murders that have touched nearly every family."

He wrote the "most frustrating aspect" of this viewpoint is that "it translates into a lack of diligence and detailed planning."

"To their credit, the Iraqis almost always made mission, but it was typically not to the standard that Americans expect."

Cultural differences and friction are "inevitable," Grunow wrote, and command relationships involving U.S. and Iraqi forces presented some misunderstandings.

"Another problem plaguing the strategy is that it's unnatural for U.S. soldiers to step back and allow their Iraqi partners to take the lead when the soldiers think they can do it more efficiently and quickly."

Despite deep disparities, the 2nd Armored Brigade, the unit he assisted, now takes the lead on operations "within its AO [area of operations], suffering casualties and fighting the enemy alongside its American partners."

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An Iraqi soldier stands guard on a Humvee in Karbala this week.

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