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. Iraqis are far more likely to be killed in combat than Americans due to their inferior equipment and lack of experience. And if the insurgents win the war, American soldiers and Marines get to go home. Iraqis who sided with the Americans in the army and police will have to face retribution alone, with little chance of escape, from the new regime.
And what of those three who threw themselves on a suicide bomber? They are hardly less brave than American soldiers. They are arguably as brave as the Americans who sacked the Al Qaeda hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and sacrificed themselves so that others could live.
These Iraqis deserve recognition, and they deserved to be recognized by their names. Yet I could not find their names cited in any media articles. All three of their names generate zero hits using Google at the time of this writing. I had to contact Baghdad myself to find out who they were. Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton was kind enough to pass their names on.
Iraq between the time of the initial invasion and 2007 was easily as nasty a place as Lebanon was during the 1980s, and the conflict is eerily similar. Thomas Friedman made a haunting observation about anonymous death during the civil war in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem: “Death had no echo in Beirut. No one’s life seemed to leave any mark on the city or reverberate in its ear.” Then he quoted a young woman. “In the United States if you die in a car accident, at least your name gets mentioned on television,” she said. “Here they don’t even mention your name anymore. They just say ‘thirty people died.’ Well, what thirty people? They don’t even bother to give their names. At least say their names. I want to feel that I was something more than a body when I die.”
Here are the names of the three brave Iraqis who hurled themselves on an exploding suicide bomber.
Malik Abdul Ghanem
Asa’ad Hussein Ali
Abdul-Hamza Abdul-Hassan Rissan
They were friends the Americans and Iraqis did not know we had until they were gone.