Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Great Disbanding Debate

Strategypage lays out the positions on the wisdom of disbanding the Iraqi army in May 2003.

The article says that one position is that it was a grave mistake to disband the army and allow 5 weeks to pass before announcing that the discharged soldiers would get a stipend.

I find it hard to believe that those 5 weeks were the difference between Sunni Baathists fighting us or accepting rule by Shias and Kurds. We know that the Saddam regime planned irregular warfare in our rear areas with intelligence personnel, Baath Pary loyalists, and imported jihadis (the Fedayeen), assuming we'd be stalled at the gates of Baghdad and fail to finish off the Saddam regime. We know the Baathists despised the Shias.

There is no way that these people were all set to reconcile to rule by the hated Shias and then, after noticing they'd gotten no checks from the Americans, that this was the final insult and by Allah they'd car bomb their way to revenge. These Sunni Arab leaders and fanatics were determined to fight us from day one. The lower rank enlisted were barely trained to pray and spray and simply were not a threat to us, in my opinion.

I've addressed this many times and hoped to end my participation in this debate. Let me set forth my view of the Iraqi army issue:

The Special Republican Guards and Republican Guards had to go. Period.

The regular army had to go as an institution, but it should have been stripped for parts. It was led by Sunni Baathists for the most part despite having large numbers of Shia soldiers. Nobody in the regular army above the rank of major should have been kept unless they could prove their innocence. Majors and below would be kept unless there was evidence of crimes. I assumed before the war that we would get some Iraqi units to defect to us, based on reports that we were attempting email contacts with them. With screened officers, I assumed we could set up light infantry forces for local security, with no unit above battalion strength and shadowed/advised by our special forces types.

As it turns out, the Iraqi army simply collapsed during the invasion. And the bases were looted. So the army was gone. "Disbanding" the army was a pure legal formality that would have been necessary even if we could have kept the units around and stripped them for parts. And we did eventually provide stipends and we did recruit amongst these former soldiers for the new army and the new civil defense force.

Finally, recall that half the Iraqi ground forces dissolved during the spring 2004 Sadr--jihadi revolts. Can you imagine what would have happened if we had kept the Saddam-era Iraqi army intact? Units would have switched sides and not just dissolved. Think about that nightmare.

In the end, even conceding that disbanding the army caused all sorts of problems (and I don't concede that), we got through that difficult period and we have a better Iraqi army today for having started from scratch.

As long as we win the war, I'm fine with endless debate on the disbanding issue. I don't get worked up over the D-Day in 1943 debate or the Italy versus Balkans debate concerning World War II.