January 11, 2008

The Bravery of Iraqis

Iraqi Army soldiers have a terrible reputation for cowardice and corruption – especially in Baghdad – but it’s unfair to write them all off after reading the news out of Iraq’s capital Sunday. Three Iraqi Army soldiers tackled a suicide bomber at an Army Day parade and were killed when he exploded his vest.

While embedded with the United States Army and Marines I heard over and over again that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police have improved a lot in the past year. This is encouraging, on the one hand, but at the same time it is worrisome. If they are as bad now in some places as I’ve seen myself, they must have really been something in 2005.

At the War Eagle outpost in Baghdad’s Graya’at neighborhood, I was told by a military intelligence officer that the most likely reason we weren’t under mortar attack is because huge numbers of Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Mahdi Army militiamen had infiltrated the ranks of Iraqi Army soldiers who shared the base with us.

A colonel at Camp Taji north of the city told me the U.S. Army doesn’t dare inform their Iraqi Army counterparts about sensitive operations until the very last minute because they don’t want infiltrators to alert the insurgents.

The Iraqi Police in Mushadah, near Taji, were more of a military force than a police force when I visited last July. As many as half were thought to be Al Qaeda operatives, and the other half were so scared they refused to go on patrols until a female American captain showed them up by going outside the station herself.

And this is the new and improved Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police of 2007 during General Petraeus’s surge. Progress in Iraq is relative. It’s hard to say if the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police could hold the country together by themselves in 2008. Personally, I doubt it. So do most American soldiers and Marines I’ve spoken to. The Iraqis certainly could not have held it together in 2005 or 2006.

The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police deserve kudos for progress, even so. And they deserve more credit for bravery than they’ve been getting.

Read the rest at Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at January 11, 2008 11:47 AM

When the build a memorial for this war, it needs to have a depiction of an Iraqi soldier/policeman tackling a suicide bomber. This has happened so often and is too brave not to be noted. The Iraqi's have earned the honor.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at January 11, 2008 1:11 PM

Amazing work Michael. I Googled Malik Abdul Ghanem and found three links, each connected to you. You & Lieutenant Hutton exclusively are rescuing Malik Abdul Ghanem, Asa’ad Hussein Ali and Abdul-Hamza Abdul-Hassan Rissan from anonymity.

Posted by: scottmoshen Author Profile Page at January 11, 2008 2:52 PM

What can one say?

Michael Totten is a helluva journalist.

And a helluva guy too.

Posted by: SMGalbraith Author Profile Page at January 11, 2008 5:22 PM

"The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police deserve kudos for progress, even so. And they deserve more credit for bravery than they’ve been getting."

Better in 2007 than in 2006. Better in 2006 than in 2005. Better in 2005 than in 2004.

You can't always start out perfect. Especially in Iraq where 'perfect' in that context is often barely 'adequate' in a US context.

The fact that in 2007 the Army and the Police now more often than not actually defend their assigned stations is a vast improvement over 2004 when they ALL ran like water at the first opportunity.

As long as they keep 'improving', what reason is there to despair ?

As far as I am concerned the 3 Iraqis who threw themselves on the monster are Heroes. That is 3 more heroes than would have present just a few short years ago. That's got to say something.

Posted by: dougf Author Profile Page at January 11, 2008 7:51 PM


First, thank you for finding their names. That exact quote from Tom Friedman was also fresh in my mind when I first heard of the bombing - I was surprised to see you use the same quote (I started reading it last week).

Regarding the ability of the Iraqi military, keep in mind that when you ask the opinion of a US Soldier or Marine, their standards are going to be very high (though I agree that the Iraqi Army is not ready for prime time). The US military is so much more professional, lethal, and capable than any other military that we often have a difficult time recognizing just how bad other militaries are and just how low acceptable standards are. Spend some time with non-NATO forces (and even some NATO ones) and you will see that the Iraqi military is not as hopeless as it seems. They are being viewed in stark contrast to the superpower that is mentoring them. Right now, the Iraqi military is not even among the 10 or 15 worst on the planet - that is a low standard, but consider that it has been stood up amidst a communal civil war. That is remarkably fast progress - and it continues.

Consider how feared the Soviets were and then look at the casualties that they suffered in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Those are the closest modern equivalents to what we are fighting in Iraq alongside our Iraqi counterparts, and we are doing so in the information age. The discipline and training of the stereotypical Iraqi Soldier is not too much worse than that of the modal Soviet conscript and they are quickly improving.

The greatest obstacle to an adequate Iraqi Army is the ability to moderate the ethno-sectarian animosities and remove the political influence of thugs like Sadr. Once Iraqi Soldiers can stop worrying about infiltrators in their ranks and divided loyalties among leadership, then they will be able to focus more energy on the insurgency and terrorist cells.

Posted by: Saint in Exile Author Profile Page at January 11, 2008 9:38 PM

Saint in Exile,

It's actually not that surprising that you and I thought of the same quote from Thomas Friedman. You mentioned in this very comment section that someone should find the names of these Iraqi soldiers, and the first thing I thought of when you said that was the quote from Thomas Friedman. It's a memorable quote (even though I read the book years ago) and is directly related to this incident.

I took it upon myself to find their names and write this article because you suggested it and because Thomas Friedman taught me, among many many other things, why this is important.

Thanks for the article idea. If I didn't dig up their names, it is possible that no one ever would have. It was a bit of a hassle. I had to talk to ten different people before I finally got to someone who knew, and with the time zone lag it took a few days. That, at least, is probably part of the reason their names did not appear in the initial instant reports.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at January 11, 2008 10:46 PM


Brave men and women are where you find them. Some stand above the events that swirl around us; some exist just under the surface waiting for the right confluences of events to motivate them to step forward; others never find their time or place. While the SAS motto: "Those who dare, Win", is inspiring, it is only always true in regards to staying true to ones own self. Brave men, like the three you wrote about, often die - very often. Sometimes their actions inspire others and form a core belief that vitalizes a nation or a people.

Other times, like in Vietnam, their bravery and courage is submerged and lost because of the perfidies of those they had to rely on. Those who understand this understand that to honor such people it is necessary to preserve in the face of the most daunting conditions, until the goal that motivated such bravery is finally achieved. To do otherwise is to toss aside all their efforts and grind their beliefs and sacrifices in the dirt.

One of the men who served before me on the team I was with in Vietnam wrote a story about one such man: Sgt. Yau (Giao) http://a502.atspace.com/Stories/sDPope/Courageous.html#anchorYau. There were other Vietnamese like him, but like Iraq, Vietnam was a civil war supported by outside forces and our opponents where some of the most sophisticated and ruthless political activists and organizers mankind has ever experienced. For every one like a Sgt. Giao there were a dozen or more who were communist sympathizers. In fact, while we never lost a large number of American advisors on our team, of those I know about all but perhaps one were killed by our own supposed allies.

Insurgencies are tough; Iraq has been, and is, tough. However, most of the so called 'mistakes' in the way the war has been conducted, have simply been part of the learning curve and those who think otherwise have never studied history, or actually been in a similar war. Compared to Johnson and McNamara, Bush and Rumsfeld have been beyond reproach, and I don't even like Bush. While General Petraeus deserves all the allocades given him, the success of the 'surge' depended on all that had gone on before. The very fact that General Petraeus was given command is unequivocal evidence that those in charge were exercising that most important of qualities: the ability to creatively adapt to changing conditions - something never really done, or even attempted, in Vietnam on anything like a large scale, thanks to the constant unceasing mind numbing interference of Johnson, McNamara and the democrats, whose war it was.

The American forces operating in Iraq and Afghanistan are much better motivated, trained, and led than their earlier counterparts in Vietnam. Part of this of course is the familiarity we gained with the 'Hate America First' drum roll of the liberals, MSM, and dupes among us. At that time the shock of their outrageous perfidy was a social blitzkrieg that achieved its goal: demoralize the people and the troops and force an ignoble rout in the face of victory. While their activities today are not pleasant, familiarity does breed contempt, and hopefully the United States will continue to support those brave men who have stepped forward in Iraq, and allow them to achieve an enduring legacy, instead of being lost and forgotten in the bloody chaos of dishonor and failure.

Posted by: H. Short Author Profile Page at January 12, 2008 5:59 AM

It is good to see the shift in American rhetoric where we are beginning to view the Iraqi people as co-owners of their own humanity.

I raise a final salute to the three fallen brothers in arms who sacrificed their lives willingly for the hope and future of Iraq. May you find your eternal peace.

Thank you, Michael, for making the effort and time to memoralize this event and the men who died with honor for their country.

Posted by: Kevin China Author Profile Page at January 12, 2008 4:24 PM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 01/15/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at January 15, 2008 8:23 AM

We will remember them.

Posted by: Math_Mage Author Profile Page at January 21, 2008 12:34 AM
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