Notes From an Embed in Iraq: A Lesson Learned

BY Margaret Warner  August 25, 2010 at 3:00 PM EST


Iraqi Gen. Hamid Mohsin Al-Taey on a patrol in the Mosul region

MOSUL, Iraq | We’re out in a nine-humvee convoy with Federal Police Gen. Hamid Mohsin Al-Taey, whose Baghdad-based unit has the job of weeding anti-government insurgents out of western Mosul far to the north. It’s the most dangerous section of the city — where terror groups of various stripes, al-Qaida and non-AQ alike, have made the police officers their top target.

The general has us dismount to see the two sites on the same street, where car-borne IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were detonated in an attempt to assassinate him. But what’s really remarkable is that as we move around a crowded market street, all of us — Iraqi police, U.S. soldiers and I and my team — are wearing body armor. All of us, that is, except for General Hamid. “He won’t show fear in front of his men,” a U.S. Army officer said. “It’s cultural.”

It was a small but telling example of a lesson the U.S. military has learned the hard way in Iraq. Iraqi army officers sport spanking new U.S.-issue uniforms, boots and weapons. But after more than seven years of occupation, and four years rebuilding the Iraqi military, American officers have learned not to hold the Iraqis to the identical standard of what makes an effective fighting force.

“Have you heard the phrase ‘Iraqi Good?’” asked Lt. Col. Dan Reid of the Third Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade, in charge of the U.S. unit advising the Federal Police in the Mosul region. “It’s not a derogatory term. They just do things a certain way. We train them in the American methods, we can show them how it works for us, but they take what they need and apply it to what works for them, culturally.”


Lt. Col. Dan Reid explains training tactics in a HumVee.

The decision can be a large tactical one: which force — Army, Federal Police, local police — should be brought in to pacify western Mosul, for example? Or it can involve a small detail about procedures: American officers have their offices festooned with gigantic blow-up maps, with push pins stuck in at the site of every recent attack, to track what’s going on in the city.

“The Iraqis don’t like maps much,” Reid said. “To track what’s happening, they make a duty log.” He pulled out a gigantic green cloth-covered ledger. Every incident was meticulously documented with the “the 5 W’s” — who, what, when, where, why. Not the American way, but far more informative than the push-pins. And for the Iraqi Army, whose planners and officers don’t have computerized data at their fingertips, a darn sight more practical.

View all of the NewsHour’s reports from Iraq.