Even after the U.S. spent billions training Iraq’s armed forces, the one million-member army and police remain riven by sectarian discontents, corruption and a lack of professionalism.
The 61-minute video was recently posted online by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an Al-Qaida splinter group of Sunni extremists. The intent was to terrorize Sunnis in Iraq’s army and police forces and deepen their already low morale.
That fear is one factor behind the stunning collapse of Iraqi security forces when fighters led by the Islamic State overran the cities of Mosul and Tikrit this week, sweeping over a swath of Sunni-majority territory. In most cases, police and soldiers simply ran, sometimes shedding their uniforms, and abandoned arsenals of heavy weapons.
Even after the United States spent billions of dollars training the armed forces during its 2003-2011 military presence in Iraq, the one million-member army and police remain riven by sectarian discontents, corruption and a lack of professionalism.
Many Sunnis in the armed forces are unprepared to die fighting on behalf of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government, which many in their minority community accuse of sharp bias against them. The Islamic State has exploited this by touting itself as the Sunnis’ champion against Shiites.
Shiites in the armed forces, in turn, feel isolated and deeply vulnerable trying to hold on to Sunni-majority areas.
Desertion has been heavy the past six months among forces in the western province of Anbar, Iraq’s Sunni heartland, where troops have been fighting in vain to uproot Islamic State fighters who took over the city of Fallujah, said two high officials — one in the government and the other in the intelligence services.
The militants who early this week swept into the northern city of Mosul included former Sunni army officers who had deserted out of frustration with al-Maliki’s government, the two officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence reports.
As the militants approached, the two officials said, many of the top army commanders in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, fled to the autonomous Kurdish region.
With their generals gone, the ranks saw no reason to stay.
“We were fighting, but our leaders betrayed us,” one soldier who escaped from Mosul told the AP in Irbil, capital of the Kurdish region. “When we woke up, all the leaders had left.”
The intelligence assessments show that many of the 52,000 police and 12,000 soldiers in Mosul surrendered, handing over their weapons in exchange for safe passage out, the two officials said.
With a salary of $700 a month for newly enlisted men, the army and the police have attracted many young Iraqis who would otherwise be unemployed. Once in, some bribe commanders so they can stay home and take a second job, lamented the officials.
Most are in it for the paycheck. “There’s a sense the individuals looked to themselves and thought this is not my fight,” said Feisal Istrabadi, a former Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations. “They haven’t been trained and imbued …read more