Iraq's New Army

  • Share
  • Read Later
The Iraqi military has had a rough couple months. First it endured a crushing rout at the hands of U.S. and British forces, then watched as enemy soldiers took up residence in the garish palaces  that once served as the Iraqi command centers.  Last month the head of the U.S.'s postwar administration in Iraq, Paul Bremer, delivered the  most painful blow, dissolving Iraq's armed forces and putting 400,000 soldiers  out of work without so much as a pink slip.

But at least some of them may soon get a second chance.  According to Marine Col. Jim Frawley, a top advisor to the Bremer team, the U.S. plans to begin recruiting a new Iraqi security force by the end of this month. In an interview today with TIME and National Public Radio, Frawley said the initial all-volunteer, 40,000-man light infantry unit that will be deployed to provide basic security  throughout Iraq and will assist U.S. forces in clearing battlefield sites.

The U.S. hopes the corps will ultimately become the foundation of a new Iraqi standing army, though that goal is still years away. "The Iraqi military is like a tree that has been knocked down," Frawley says. "And instead of just pulling the old tree up, we want to plant new seeds." Frawley says the new force will be drawn from all regions of the country; unlike Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated  military,  the corps will be ethnically diverse. Membership will not be open to senior officers from the old Iraqi military or members of the Republican Guard — a group that may make up as much as half the former Iraqi forces. And while the rest will be eligible to join the new units, Frawley says the U.S. also hopes to recruit  soldiers without any prior military experience. The new corps, Frawley says, will be under the "direct supervision" of U.S. forces in Iraq.

For the U.S., the move comes at a critical time.  Attacks on U.S. soldiers continue to mount, and frustration remains high at the widespread joblessness and disorder  that have plagued the first two months of post-Saddam Iraq. In recent weeks, hundreds of jobless members of the military have staged noisy protests outside U.S. headquarters in central Baghdad, threatening to take up the arms they never gave up if the U.S. doesn't meet their demands for new jobs.

Frawley says that the U.S. now plans to give severance and retirement pay to those affected by Bremer's dissolution order and to allow former soldiers to participate in a U.N.-sponsored retraining program. Still, there are plenty in Iraq not willing to give up their guns. In western Iraq yesterday,  militants shot and killed a U.S. soldier at a checkpoint — the 8th American to die in the last two weeks. And with each new attack, U.S. plans to draw down the size of its forces seem more remote. "The attacks are getting more sophisticated," says Frawley. "They could be the work of disenchanted military groups. They're becoming more and more organized and military-like. And so we're increasing our security posture." Don't expect  it to go down anytime soon.