I spent Wednesday at the Joint Operations Center, or JOC in Tuz. As the name implies, the JOC is an operations center for the Iraqi Police (IP), the Iraqi Civil Defense Corp (ICDC), and the Coalition. It also serves as a training center for the ICDC, and on this day, I would be accompanying Sergeants Graham and Black in running the men through their paces.
As some will recall, when I first came to Iraq, a number of military sources pushed the idea to me that the ICDC is a success story for the Iraqi security forces. A key point was that the members of the ICDC were from the neighborhoods they would be patrolling, and therefore were trusted by the people. However, in recent days, the ICDC’s reputation has become tarnished. First, an ICDC unit refused to fight in Fallujah, prompting questions both as to their dedication and level of training. Even previous supporters like Brigadier General Kimmitt and General Sanchez admitted that the ICDC had come up short. Conventional wisdom quickly settled on the conclusion that America had tried to do too much too fast—that is, the ICDC had been rushed through insufficient training. A second major failing came here in the Tuz area of operations. The ICDC was manning a checkpoint 40 days ago when they were attacked by anti-Iraqi forces. There were about 40 ICDC at the outpost—which included a building with high ground—compared to around 15 bandits. When ICDC soldier Farhad Abdullah was hit in the chest by an RPG, the other ICDC soldiers literally ran from the location despite superior numbers and superior position. This act, combined with lax habits in the use of their firearms (e.g., poor muzzle control, walking around with clips in their AKs and the safety off, misfiring of weapons when jumping from the bed of trucks, etc.) make Army forces less than enthusiastic about conducting joint operations with the ICDC.
The training mission at the JOC is intended to turn this around—that is, to turn the ICDC into a force that will be able to stand on its own. The program has already had some successes. For example, the day that I was there, none of the ICDC were seen walking around the base with clips in their weapons, and most of the ICDC were exercising reasonable muzzle control (that is, they weren’t slinging their weapons every which way). This may sound small, but these are big steps. That said, there is still a lot of work to do. When I was touring the base, we stumbled on one of the ICDC soldiers sleeping on the job in a lookout tower. The next day, the CO found all four towers sheltering slumbering guards. The level of personal discipline among the ICDC members is grossly lacking. They straggle in late, and are quick to complain and “discuss” orders. I could not help but think that the average band camper demonstrates more discipline than the average ICDC soldier. The ICDC officers have very little control over the soldiers, because of fear of retaliation. As I mentioned in a previous post, if an officer withholds pay for a soldier’s negligence (say, for example, sleeping on the job), then he will likely be threatened with retaliation by the somnambulant soldier’s family. Sergeants Graham and Black are attempting to change this by filtering disciplinary actions through untouchables such as themselves. They pound the importance of arriving on time and prepared by demanding pushups and other PT for failures. But it is a very tough job. As Sergeant Graham put it, under Saddam, military discipline and control was achieved with a nine millimeter—the common weapon of execution. Anything else is considered weak. So the large but soft spoken Sgt. Black finds himself raising his voice to bark orders or issuing pushups more often than he would like in order to even get their attention.
On Wednesday, they were practicing checkpoint search procedures. I actually participated in the training, which I will explain in greater detail in a forthcoming article. After the training, a procession of arbaena—essentially a memorial service—was held in commemorating the 40th day after the killing of the ICDC soldier. The stage displayed a picture of Farhad Abdullah on an easel. The lawn was packed with mourners, and the service, which lasted about an hour, included many speeches (in Arabic or Kurdish—without translation), and a performance by a choir of children.