Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Iraq's New Army

In the June 2003 Strategic Forum, a periodical pamphlet from National Defense University, Joseph McMillan had an article advocating building the Iraqi army off conscripts rather than volunteers. I haven't been following the rebuilding of the Iraqi military, so I don't know what the CPA is doing now, bu McMillan's case was at the very least interesting. Sunni Arab domination of the armed forces has been a characteristic of Iraq during the 20th century, and the armed forces have allowed Sunni Arab regimes to dominate the Kurds and Shi'ites. Having conscription - especially if it involved a service requirement similar to Israel's - would ensure that all Iraq's ethnic and religious groups had representation in the army, that the army would be more difficult to turn against individual communities, and that Iraqis who went through military service together would form the cornerstones of a united Iraqi society.

From my cursory glance through the piece, I think McMillan's onto something, but I do have a couple of concerns. One is that there have always been, for example, Shi'ites in the Iraqi army - it's just that the Sunnis have run things. So you would have to find officers from the Shi'ite and Kurdish populations, as well. In addition, I'm not sure the divisions within Iraqi society are really that sharp, though they could become sharp if the Ba'athist remnants succeed in provoking the Shi'ites into Sunni/Shi'ite confrontation. But that's not really an argument against conscription, just noting a flaw in an argument for it.

If the army is built on a volunteer basis, these goals should still be attainable depending on the focus and conduct of recruitng efforts and the loyalty different regions come to feel toward any emerging central authority. However, even in the best-case scenario, the Kurds in particular might be difficult to draw in.


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