Working with the Kurdish Military

I think this narrative presents important aspects  of training Middle Eastern  military forces. I have found over the years that although there have been hundreds of American officers and NCO’s working with the Arabs and Afghans, few actually record their experiences or analyze them.  The after  action reports found at the various Army school houses  tend to be written in this indecipherable , infinitely boring. stilted language of military speak.  Perhaps it is simply a casualty of twitter and facebook,  and our declining educational standards. When I read the autobiographies of our WWII vets and those of the British,  the difference is appalling.

 

Journal Kept by Stephen W. Richey, Major, U.S. Army Retired, of My Experiences Teaching U.S. Small Unit Tactics for Tanks and Mechanized Infantry to Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga Junior Officers in Sulaymaneeyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, Summer and Autumn, 2015

 

Introductory Note to Readers:

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I retired from the U.S. Army in 2010 at the end of a military career that included enlisted service as a tank crewman, graduating from West Point as an Armor officer, and four tours in Iraq.  I was also a student at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg where I was trained to be a subject matter expert in the Middle East prior to my assignment to a PSYOP unit.  I flew to Sulaymaneeyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, in late June, 2015 at my own expense. It was my intention to volunteer my services to the Peshmerga in their fight against ISIS.

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My expertise is as a classroom instructor in tank/mechanized infantry small unit tactics.  I envisioned performing in this role for the Peshmerga. To that end, before leaving the U.S., I purchased a miniature army of little green army men and tanks from Walmart.  When I got my little army home, I arrayed it on the floor of my living room. I organized the infantry by fire teams, squads, and platoons, culminating in a rifle company with supporting antitank weapons and mortars.  I organized the tanks into platoons culminating in an armor company. I used little plastic toy cars that came with the toy sets to represent a scout platoon. I used different colors of paint to color-code selected little soldiers and tanks as fire-team leaders, squad leaders, platoon leaders and company commanders.  Having thus constituted my little army, I packed it in my duffel bag.

 

En route to Sulaymaneeyah, at a brief stopover at the airport in Amman, Jordan, by pure chance, I encountered a young American man with military experience (National Guard) who likewise sought to help the Kurdish people fight against ISIS.  He and I became inseparable for the next few days. After clearing customs at Sulaymaneeyah airport, we presented ourselves to the first uniformed individual wearing some rank I saw inside the main part of the terminal. I used what few sentences of Sorani Kurdish and Arabic I knew to introduce ourselves and explain our purpose in being there.  As I anticipated, he, like most officials in Iraqi Kurdistan, was at least partially fluent in English. He escorted us to his superior at the airport to whom I repeated my pitch. I unpacked my miniature tank/infantry reinforced company team and briefly went through the paces of what I was prepared to do for the Peshmerga. This man was warmly sympathetic to my cause.  After some phone calls by this official to his superiors, my companion and I took a cab to a hotel where we stayed for two nights over the Islamic Sabbath weekend of Friday and Saturday.

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On Sunday, which equates to Monday in the West, we moved from the hotel to the quite large Peshmerga base at Formandee on the outskirts of Sulaymaneeyah.  We were introduced to Mr. Amin Ayad who was a high-ranking member of the Peshmerga intelligence organization and who was the designated “handler” for foreign volunteers.  He possessed excellent fluency in English, having lived in North Carolina for some time. He impressed me as someone we could trust. After our meeting with Mr. Ayad, we were billeted in the enlisted barracks.  There we met still another young American man with military experience (Marine, as I recall) who had come to support the Kurdish cause against ISIS and who had already been there for a few days before my companion and I arrived.  After a few more days and some arrangement-making by Mr. Ayad, my two fellow Americans got their wish and were driven to northeastern Syria, properly Rojava, to join up with the YPG. I have not heard from them since.

 

I was kept in limbo at Formandee for two months while the high-ranking Peshmerga leadership went through an excruciatingly protracted process of figuring out what to do with me.  During this time I made my pitch with my toy soldiers and tanks at least one more time to at least one more high-ranking officer, he being General Adnan. I was assisted by a mentally brilliant young Peshmerga enlisted soldier, named Dareen, whose fluency in English was superb.  I spent my days typing up lesson plans on my laptop and perfecting my methodology of moving toy tanks and soldiers around on the floor to make my teaching points. I wrote up a draft field manual for tank/mechanized infantry small unit tactics which was an enormously simplified redaction of the doctrine I had learned back in the 1980s.  Mr. Ayad’s team set to work translating it into Kurdish. Then, quite suddenly one day, I was told to get ready to meet with and make my pitch to General Shemsadeen, who I understood to be the ranking man on Formandee, within the hour. My discussion with General Shemsadeen in his office, with about a dozen Peshmerga officers in attendance, was evidently a big hit.  Shemsadeen was all kindness toward me. He was quite happy to accept my services as I described them. Very shortly thereafter, I and all my gear were moved to the Peshmerga tank center at Khaneegomah, a place slightly farther out from Sulaymaneeyah.

 

At that point, I started the following journal.

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Tuesday, 8 Sep 15

 

I am exiting the officers’ mess after eating breakfast when I see Mr. Amin Ayad (who is visiting from Formandee), BG Fahrayduhn (who is GEN Shemsadeen’s #2), the CO of the IFV/APC Bn., and possibly also (my memory fails me here) the commandant/head instructor of the tank school (who I later learn is named COL Eemahd) conversing in the parking lot.  They are waiting for GEN Adnan. They call me over to join them. We converse briefly and then move inside to BG Fahrayduhn’s office. Much discussion I can’t understand while we wait for Adnan. During a lull in conversation, I ask if the Pesh have a plow or shovel they can fit on the front end of their tanks, and if not, whether it is feasible to improvise or manufacture such devices locally.  The answer is yes, the Pesh do have such devices but they fail to dig deep enough to reach the Daesh IEDs. It is repeated to me that the American MRAPS are ineffective trying to disarm the latest Daesh IEDs. However, during the last operation (says the IFV/APC Bn CO, whose words are translated for me by Amin), a new French vehicle seemed to offer the best solution yet. The Daesh IED is by far the biggest killer of Pesh.  I also learn, to my deep worry, that yes, the Daesh DO have helicopters and that said helicopters carry missiles. We’re still waiting for Adnan. The travelling barber has set up business out in the hall and on the advice of those present I go get a haircut and beard trim. Shortly after I return from the barber, we learn that Adnan is waiting for us over by the tank school classroom/sand table building so we walk over to meet him.

 

I am next surprised by how quickly things move.  About a dozen 2nd LTs are in the classroom.  I am surprised when I am told to sit at the desk on the dais facing them.  Adnan takes the podium to my left and commences a long, windy speech introducing me to them and telling them what he expects of them when they take my course.  Amin translates from Adnan’s Arabic to Kurdish for the benefit of the students and to English for my benefit. At my suggestion, we take a five-minute break after Adnan is done before I give my speech.  I begin my speech with my Kurdish language intro sentences and then go into the rest of my speech in English for 5-10 minutes. Amin translates while Eemahd sits among LTs in audience. I do my standard shtick about how I am not here to throw out what the Pesh have and replace it but rather to augment what the Pesh have with the American style; I expect to learn as much from my students as they from me; I look forward to working with COL Eemahd; what my motivations are for fighting the Daesh (avenging my fallen brothers who died fighting for Mosul and Tikrit, ground which the Daesh now hold except for Tikrit which was recently retaken), etc.  I conclude my speech and the LTs are dismissed. I sit down in the classroom with Amin, Adnan, Fahrayduhn, and Eemahd to finalize how my class will go when I start my first day of teaching (TOMORROW!). Adnan has drawn on a piece of paper an elaborate sketch map of two mythical countries, the more northern of which is controlled by the Daesh and the more southern of which is controlled by the Pesh. He wants to expand my small unit tactical focus into something integrated up into the strategic level and which includes admin actions at Bn HQ prior to operations.  He proposes a scenario in which the Pesh first defend against a Daesh offensive and then launch a counteroffensive. He wants the sketch map to be replicated for my sand table. Apparently he never read or never understood or has chosen to ignore the topic sequence of, and the platoon-company tactical focus of my lesson plan and class schedule. I ask Adnan how many kilometers long each side of his sketch map is. He says fifty kilometers by fifty kilometers. I now—politely—launch into my objections to, and proposed alternatives to, Adnan’s proposal (which he had, from the beginning, with great graciousness, taken pains to announce as “merely” his proposals).  I say that Bn level staff procedures prior to an operation are intensely complex and that it would be folly of me to try to teach Pesh LTs about Pesh high-level staff operations; my focus is, and can only be, purely small unit tactical. I say Adnan and Eemahd should do all the talking about staff work at Bn and above and only hand things off to me when they are ready to go as low as company. I say Adnan and Eemahd should put their 50 km x 50 km map on the white board at the front of the classroom and let me zoom down the focus to a very few square kms on the sand table. Finally, in order to sustain the logic of how I sequenced my classes, we need to change Adnan’s scenario about defend first-attack later to attack first-defend later.  I’m hugely relieved by how instantly and warmly Adnan and Eamahd acquiesce to everything I propose.

 

Next, at my request, we make a recon of the complete extent of the maneuver area; to my delight, we all set off in an APC.  After the recon it’s time for lunch. Via Amin, from across the lunch table, Eemahd sends me a little pin that has an enamel Kurdish flag and some writing on it.  Amin tells me that what Eemahd says is that since I am a Peshmerga now, I should have this pin. We agree it would look best above my right breast pocket. Upon returning to my room at C.O.B., I see that pin says “Kurdistan” on it and I cannot afford to be photographed wearing such a politically provocative and problematic word on my person.

 

Wed, 9 Sep 15

 

I arrive at the classroom at 0715, fifteen minutes early, and find it still locked.  The duty officer arrives shortly to open it. The whiteboard is bare—no sign of Adnan’s promised strategic scenario map.  The sand table is still totally empty of everything, including sand: it’s just the border boards set up in a big rectangle around an expanse of floor.  Amin and Eemahd arrive. The students—all of them 2nd LTs—start to arrive.  I am cheerfully stunned by the extremity of military courtesy they render to me as each one walks in the door.  When I mention this to Fahrayduhn (or was it Amin?) at the end of the school day while walking back to HQ, he tells me to notice what a broken down, shabby, dirty mess this part of the world is.  For a culture obsessed with appearances, the only way to compensate is to be extravagantly correct in military courtesy, bearing, and turn-out. Adnan phones in and tells us he will be an hour late due to a medical issue.  Contrary to plan, I will be the first to speak. I need to use up an hour. I do so, I think, to excellent effect. With Amin translating, I speak for about an hour about Western Military Theory at the “one-over-the-world” (ultra-macro) level.  I talk about the two different forms of war in terms of symmetric vs. asymmetric. I talk about the two different forms of war in terms of the defense vs. the offense. I present a capsule biography of one Carl Von Clausewitz and his huge book On War.  I go on about Carl’s idea that the defense is the stronger form of war.  I ask the students their opinion about why Carl would make this assertion.  Several raised hands lead to several good answers. When I clap my hands to applaud my students for their answers, all my students clap too!  I expand on Clausewitz’s idea that the defense is the stronger form of war by asserting the offense is the decisive form of war.  A war will last forever unless somebody attacks successfully to put an end to it all.  I conclude my presentation. A student approaches me at the podium to ask me two questions:  1. Why did the U.S. conspire with Israel to create ISIS in the first place? I damn near explode.  I make clear to Amin that I want him to translate the word “bullshit” as literally as he can while I make a pantomime of a cow taking a squat.  I go on a rant to the effect that ISIS is the cousin of Al Queda and Al Queda murdered 3,000 Americans on 9-11. At this moment, the U.S. is dropping bombs on ISIS.  Why would we drop bombs on ISIS if we created it? That makes no sense. I conclude by dramatically begging the LT to “help me kill this stupid lie” that the U.S. created ISIS.  2. If the U.S. could overthrow Saddam in only a few weeks of combat in 2003, why is the U.S. now saying that it will take “years” to defeat ISIS? I reply that it is a matter of political will.  And this is how American politics work. In 2003, we had a Republican president and Republicans are aggressive about using the military. But now, we have a Democratic president and Democrats are pacifists.

 

NOTE:  Many days before, while still in limbo at Formandee, I had a conversation with Amin in which Amin volunteered the Middle Easterners’ standard take on American politics:  The Republicans are the party of making decisions and taking action. Even if they make mistakes, at least they do something.  The Democrats are the party of weaklings who are forever-in-deliberation and who never do anything.

 

NOTE:  A couple hours later, during a break between classes, Amin confides to me that he took the liberty of changing my answer to the second question.  He tells me that in his opinion, I gave an inappropriately political answer to a military question. He tells me that the answer he gave to the LT’s second question is that ISIS, being a guerilla/terrorist force, is more difficult to defeat than a conventional foe.

 

Adnan arrives wearing civvies and spends a number of minutes drawing the promised strategic fantasy scenario map on the whiteboard.  The rest of the instructional day belongs to Adnan. He talks unstoppably for hours from the whiteboard map. I sit in the back of the classroom and listen while Amin first translates from Arabic to Kurdi and then from Arabic to English.  I am only asked to return to the podium for the last ten minutes of the four-hour-long instructional day to speak from my Lesson Plan book about the questions that a tank platoon commander must have answered prior to going on the attack, and, to speak about pre-combat checks for which a platoon commander is responsible.

 

Eemahd was present throughout the day but said little.  He sat in the front row immediately in front of where I stood at the Podium.  He seemed to approve when I borrowed his copy of the Pesh Tank Platoon Commander’s instructional book, held it up next to my copy of FM 17-15, Tank Platoon (April 1996), and said to the students that the two books are virtually identical, which is true.

 

This day has apparently set the pattern for all that will follow:  Adnan will take the lead and I will be his more-or-less co-equal co-instructor as we conduct the Pesh equivalent to the Fort Knox Armor Officer Basic Course to about a dozen new 2nd LTs.  It’s Boudinot Hall déjà vu.

 

Amin tells me to not worry about not wearing the “Kurdistan” pin from Eemahd when I query him on the matter at lunch.  “Just keep it as a souvenir,” he tells me.

 

Sunday, 13 Sep 15

 

I arrived at the classroom 15 minutes early and found it open but vacant.  Happily, I saw a six-inch depth of dirt now installed on the sand table. I began the day’s instruction by demonstrating platoon movement formations on the sand table.  The Pesh had lots of toy tanks but their turrets do NOT turn; my toy tank turrets DO turn which makes a tremendous improvement in the clarity of the instruction possible.  Also, I color-coded the gun barrels according to the rank of the TC, something the Pesh never did with their toy tanks. Every few lines of spoken verbiage by me generated whole minutes of animated commentary by Adnan with the LTs and others joining in.  As I got toward the end of my presentation, I started to butt heads (politely, but awkwardly and in the presence of the students) over the purpose and role of the sand table. I THOUGHT the deal we had worked out was that the whiteboard at the front of the classroom would be reserved for the strategic map (which is Adnan’s province) while the sand table would be reserved for micro-tactical practical work (which is my province).  But Adnan took over the sand table and during the last half hour of the day directed the LTs in building an elaborate replication of the strategic map on the sand table.  Apparently, he expects me to conduct lessons on micro tactics on the strategic sand table but that would look, and would be, ridiculous.  I’ll have to move my toy tanks (and students) outside onto the dirt to teach the lessons I am prepared to teach. Also, I met BG Muhammad.

 

Monday, 14 Sep 15

 

Today, it all came together beautifully.  Amin could not come this day and Adnan was an hour or so late, as usual.  A young Sergeant named Hussein, whom I had met a few days before during an office call, stood by to be my interpreter.  Eemahd and Muhammad taught the class from the front stage. Eventually, Adnan arrived and Hussein left. Adnan brought me a sack breakfast because he had heard that I routinely skipped breakfast in the officers’ mess in order to be at the classroom on time.  (Adnan has been plying me with big sacks of food for days now.) Then it was my turn to teach. I saw that there was enough open floor space beyond one end of the sand table so I went at it with the toy tanks and soldiers in that location rather than going outside.  (Recall that Adnan had taken over the sand table to build a complex diorama of the strategic situation.) Adnan translated from English to Arabic and Eemahd translated from Arabic to Kurdi. Sheesh, what a situation. Much more important than bringing me breakfast, Adnan brought me blocks of wood to serve as IFVs/APCs.  Each block of wood was actually a 4×6 picture frame with a recessed center within a frame, so, they were perfect for accommodating fire-teams of infantry inside them.  I began by demonstrating how to integrate an IFV/APC platoon into a tank company which morphed in how to employ dismounted motorized infantry integrated with tanks in a hasty assault on a suspected Daesh RPG position which morphed into the pursuit as one post-assault option or consolidation and reorganization on the objective as the other post-assault option.  By now, I knew that the original sequencing of my lesson plan was in ruins but I didn’t care because I was making my topics flow in response to what my audience wanted to know and because I could see that they were learning, even through a double translation process. I’m grateful that the Pesh had toy trucks that I could use for supply vehicles. Crawling about on the floor and pushing around their toy trucks and my toy tanks, I demonstrated the tailgate and service station methods of resupply.  I used my fingers to pantomime transferring fuel and ammunition. I could see that the students were firmly grasping my points despite the double language barrier. Many of my statements that were only of a few seconds duration each generated many minutes of intense conversation between Adnan, Eemahd, and Muhammad. The students laughed and smiled sympathetically as I pantomimed with gestures my dismay at not understanding a word of what was being said about what I had just said. After class, Adnan was effusive in his praise of me as a well-prepared teacher who knew how to get a lesson across in understandable terms.  He conveyed to me the high satisfaction level of the students with my performance which was something I had already sensed from the students. One of the students invited me out for social activities with his friends after class, but I pleaded that I would have to get permission from Adnan first. Upon returning to HQ for lunch, I encountered Shemsadeen by chance in the courtyard as he emerged from a meeting. He gave me my first hug and man kiss on both cheeks. I impressed on him my urgent need to get to the front and shoot a few rounds from a Dishka at the Daesh. At lunch, a captain who has been noticeably friendly to me stated that in the last operation, the Daesh had shown poor morale and training compared to the Pesh.  Adnan raised again the issue that it is Daesh deep-buried IEDs that are killing us, that are causing almost all our losses in both troops and vehicles. And, our engineers have nothing more sophisticated than probing with sticks. I took the opportunity to impress upon Adnan the need to have engineer officers attend the course in order to facilitate brainstorming a solution to this problem.

 

Tuesday, 15 Sep 15

 

Today was all mine and it went splendidly.  Eemahd was not there, Amin, Adnan, Muhammad were there.  I was invited by Muhammad to deploy my toy tanks on the little stage at the front of the classroom.  I did so and taught contact drills and action drills. One of the LTs asked what to do if a Daesh tank suddenly appeared.  I seized upon this question to launch into one of my favorite themes. I said, with Amin translating, “Many people ask which is the better tank, the American M1 Abrams or the Russian T-72.  But this is a false question. The best tank in the world is whichever tank has the best soldiers inside it.” At this point, BG Muhammad, who was sitting in the front of the audience erupted.  He practically shouted the old Arabic saying that “it is not the horse that matters, it is the knight who is riding the horse is that matters.” For obvious reasons, I was delighted to learn of this old Arabic saying.  I was further fascinated to learn that in modern Arab armies, this saying is routinely applied to tanks. Muhammad went on. He said, “You must be the master of your tank the same way the knight must be master of his horse.”  He then passionately related a personal experience from the Iran war. During a close range ambush by Iranians with RPGs, his life was saved by his excellent tank driver who knew enough to instantly turn the front of the tank toward the enemy and charge, which facilitated Muhammad killing the enemy with the machine gun.  I followed up by paraphrasing Doc Bahnsen’s “Inches and Seconds” speech, turning “inches” to “centimeters.” I said that in a tank versus tank duel, you will live or die based on matters of centimeters and seconds. I then went one at a time through the four crew positions on a tank—driver, loader, gunner, TC—and I described the specific ways in which each of the four soldiers must be both fast and precise in their individual duties if the crew is to survive.  I regretted that I did not have the ability to show the tank battle scene from the movie “Fury.”  Next, one LT described his own personal idea for how to deal with an enemy contact scenario. I replied that yes, that was fine, that would work.  Then another LT spoke up to protest that the course of action proposed by his classmate was too complicated and too slow and that he would use a faster, simpler technique, which he then described.  I seized upon this situation as an opportunity to make another of my favorite points: There is no such thing as an absolute standard of right and wrong in tactical thinking. Two equally smart commanders will inevitably come up with two different solutions to the same tactical situation.  I repeated my speech of the day before with greater precision and clarity: “It is impossible for me to teach you every solution to every situation you will ever face. If I stand here and teach a hundred different solutions to a hundred different situations, then, I promise you, when you go out in the field tomorrow, you will encounter the hundred-and-first situation for which Major Richey did not teach you a solution.  God gave you a brain. The Kurdish people need you, the Peshmerga under you command need you, to take the general principles I have taught you in this classroom and to use your brain to adjust those principles to the unique situation you face.” We next moved outside where I directed the LTs in building three parallel ridges out of stones and broken bricks. Fortunately, we were able to build this new, outdoor sand table on the shady side of the building; also, the foundation of the building provided a convenient shelf for the LTs to sit on in a row while I made my presentation.  I used the toy tanks to demonstrate first the slow and then the fast methods of bounding over watch with the company commander bounding his platoons. Several iterations of LTs successfully demonstrated their mastery of the concepts with the toy tanks. [I used platoons of three toy tanks each as per Soviet-Iraqi-Peshmerga practice. Bounding overwatch within a platoon of three tanks doesn’t work well, meaning a Peshmerga tank company commander has to conduct bounding overwatch by bounding his platoons.]

 

NOTE:  When teaching bounding overwatch as part of the movement to contact, it is helpful to stress that recon scouts are NOT available to clear the zone of territory leading up to the enemy front line; therefore the tanks must be their own scouts as they move cautiously forward by bounds.

 

As always, my comments generated multiples more commentary by the generals.  Adnan thanked me for presenting the American technique but was deeply concerned that the American style of bounding overwatch, conducted over American doctrinal distances, was impossible with primitive Iraqi command and control capabilities.  He was adamant that 400 meters was the maximum permissible distance between tank platoons given what Iraqi C2 could handle. If that’s the case, then, a 400 meter upper limit on separation between tank platoons will indeed render American style bounding overwatch ridiculous.  The instructional day ended with an intense conversation that began with my rhetorical question to the leadership of the Peshmerga: would it be possible to conduct a charity campaign among the super-rich of Sulaymaneeyah to raise money to buy the best civilian two-way radios, the best German civilian binoculars, etc. for the Peshmerga tanks with a view toward improving their C2 such that bounding overwatch becomes feasible?

 

Wednesday, 16 Sep 15

 

I arrived at the classroom and was informed through Amin that Adnan wanted to give the LTs a written examination and then go out in the field with real tanks to practice maneuvers.  Adnan was over an hour late. We filled up the time by having me stand on the little stage and answer questions from the LTs with Amin translating. In answer to their questions, I gave the full spiel comparing and contrasting West Point, ROTC, and OCS.  I concluded by referring back to my previous day’s point about how it’s not the tank, it’s the soldiers inside the tank who matter. Likewise, I said, it’s the man who matters, not the name of the school he went to. One person will be a better officer if he went to West Point than if he went to ROTC and he will be better if he went to ROTC than if he went to OCS.  BUT, we are not all the same person. The best OCS grad will be better than the worst West Point grad. I went on to explain how U.S. Army promotion boards work.

 

Adnan finally arrived with yet another big sack breakfast for me.  We dispensed with the written exam and went to the motor pool in a loose gaggle.  I was about to complain to Amin that in the U.S. Army we would march to the motor pool in formation, but I bit back on the comment without speaking.  Then Amin expressed his despair at the Kurds ever being able to be “professional” about anything, and in response to that I said the words I had just swallowed a moment before.  Amin went on to bemoan to the effect that “In the U.S. Army, all this would be precisely coordinated ahead of time, the tanks would be all lined up ready to go, etc.”  The scene in the motor pool was chaotic. Eventually, three APCs were brought forward with enlisted drivers who had had zero connection with the instructional course for the LTs prior to that moment.  The APCs lacked radios to talk to each other but I was able to accept that situation because I had brought the signal flags with which the LTs would take turns being the Platoon Commander in order to practice formations and changing formations while on the move.  What angered and appalled me was that the APCs also lacked intercom communications between commander and driver. We would have to direct the drivers by poking at them and shouting at them. I proclaimed to Muhammad, Amin, and Eemahd, with Adnan out of earshot, that it was foolish and insane to attempt this maneuver without communications.  Muhammad angrily said yes, he knew that, but, Adnan had insisted on proceeding anyway. I pontificated to Amin, but really for my own benefit, that we would do what soldiers and Peshmerga always do, which is, drive forward regardless of the problems and force a good result to come from a bad situation. We were then informed that four little Motorola hand radios would be brought out to us.  In the meantime, the LTs and the three APCs had driven several hundred meters out into the field leaving me, Amin, Adnan, and Eemahd behind! We started walking across the field in pursuit of the APCs but Muhammad chose that moment to disappear until we returned some time later. Amin, Eemahd, and I walked up to the APCs where they were parked in the field. I gave one of the better LTs the signal flags, told him he would be the first to be platoon leader, explained hurriedly and agitatedly that we would practice platoon formations, and told everyone to mount up.  It went much better than I allowed myself to hope. I was in a hatch halfway between the TC/Platoon Commander and the driver with Amin sitting on the top deck behind me. I told the acting Platoon Commander which formations to call for with the signal flags while I guided the driver by tapping his shoulder to get his attention and pointing to him which way to go. We maneuvered rather handsomely across the terrain in spite of everything. We had to pause for a couple minutes when a soldier came running up behind us to deliver the four Motorolas and while Adnan finally caught up with us on foot and climbed up on my vehicle.  We went a little farther and I switched out LTs to serve as acting Platoon Commander. Then, one of three APCs broke down with a broken transmission and would not move. I ordered that the LTs on the broken down APC redistribute themselves to mine and the other remaining APC, which they did at a commendable run. I realized it was ludicrous to train platoon movement formations with two vehicles, so, to do something to fill the time usefully, I ordered a hasty assault on the next hill, which, I said, had Daesh with RPGs on it.  When the two APCs, which were now on line, reached a ditch at the base of the hill, I ordered the APCs to stop and the excess LTs to dismount and serve as infantry assaulting the hill.  We swept over the hill, APCs and infantry on line together, but only after the LTs took at an inordinately long time to sort themselves out from gaggles clustered behind the vehicles and to get into something resembling infantry on-line in the assault.  Adnan was beside himself with frustration and fury as he strove to control things by Motorola. Amin reassured me that Adnan understood perfectly what I was doing and that he concurred fully with what I was doing, but, he was upset with how ineptly it was being done.  When we got to the top of the hill and had performed some sloppy approximation of consolidating on the objective, Adnan called for everyone to dismount for a group discussion. I was happy that he beat me to making that call by all of one second. Once we were all standing in a circle on the hilltop, Adnan went on at length about what a bungled assault it was, particularly about how the LTs had just run up to the top of the hill in a non-tactical manner.  I asked to speak. I began by saying that the day’s activities were an excellent example of how to improvise solutions in situations where the original plan had become undoable. Next, I apologetically explained through Amin that it had never been my intention to practice an assault that day, that I had only wanted to practice movement formations, but, when we lost a vehicle I had realized that practicing formations had become fruitless and that I ordered the assault on the hill just to do something.  (Somewhere in all this, Adnan asserted that we should have played on with the idea that the broken down APC was knocked out by the enemy.)  I continued saying that I knew the LTs were not trained in how to be infantry in the assault, but that I would fix that shortcoming now. I loudly explained that there must be an Infantry Squad Commander on each APC and that it was the duty of the Infantry Squad Commander to control the tactical movement of each of his soldiers in the assault.  I then picked up a stick, I announced that the stick was my Kalashnikov, and, I then proceeded to demonstrate the three-second-rush, the high crawl, and the low crawl with great gusto and lusty shouts of “bang, bang, bang!” I was delighted by how fun and easy it was to perform those moves at the age of 57. I agreed with Amin that it was time to cut things off at that point, remount the vehicles, and return home.  Adnan, Amin, and I tarried on the hill for a couple minutes while Adnan rather apologetically assessed what a muddle it all was and promised we would do better next time with a marked, flagged enemy position to assault. (At some previous point, Adnan had declared that next time, the LTs would have real AKs for the assault.) I requested Peshmerga to dress up as Daesh and Adnan agreed to try to arrange it. We were the last to climb on the vehicles prior to driving home.  En route, my APC drove past the broken down APC. Amin sardonically informed me I was about to witness a uniquely Kurdish way of solving problems. Then, with a loud heavy metal on heavy metal jarring thud, we successfully push-started the broken APC. Walking back up the hill toward HQ from the motor pool, Adnan said we had made a lot of mistakes that day. I replied that I considered the day to be a success because making mistakes is good if you learn from them. I rode back from the motor pool to HQ as a passenger in Amin’s civilian pickup truck.  He confided to me that he had a low opinion of the character of the new generation of young LTs.

 

At lunch in the officers’ mess, Muhammad, referring to my horses, asked me if I was good knight.  I at first mistakenly thought he was talking about tanks, not horses, and I said that I was a good knight on American tanks.  When Amin clarified that he was talking about horses, not tanks, I earnestly informed him that yes, I am a good knight. I went on to proudly explain that my horse Northwind is half American cowboy horse and half Arabian.  I continued, saying that Northwind is the best horse I have ever had. He has the good sense and steadiness of an American cowboy horse, but at the same time, he has the fire and spirit and something else (I can’t remember) of the Arabian.  It seemed to me, through Amin, that Muhammad approved of what I said.

 

NOTE:  Later that weekend, Adnan and Amin treated me to supper at a posh restaurant called “La Vue” in Sulaymaneeyah.  As we were standing on the sidewalk afterwards prior to driving home, they raised with me the fact that the Peshmerga high command wanted me to give a speech giving an outsider’s critical assessment of the Peshmerga.  I said I was willing to give such a speech, BUT, I must visit the front to observe the Pesh in action BEFORE I give any such speech.

 

Sunday, 20 Sep 15:

 

As usual, I arrived at the classroom 20 minutes early.  Today, everyone was about forty minutes late, both LTs and cadre.  Amin was first to arrive, followed shortly thereafter by Adnan bringing his usual sack breakfast for me.  Amin looked at the breakfast Adnan brought me and rather snorted that it was an Iraqi breakfast, not a Kurdish breakfast.  (As noted above, Adnan is an Arab, not a Kurd.) Adnan began the school day by giving the LTs a 5-10 minute written quiz based on my previous lessons.  He gave each LT a different question which he had written by hand on a small slip of paper. I had to loan pens to several LTs who came to class with nothing to write with.  Then we moved to the outdoor sand table where I used the toy tanks to teach travelling and travelling overwatch. Next, I re-taught bounding overwatch, but, this time, I incorporated motorized infantry.  I gave it as Richey’s personal opinion that a wedge of APCs should follow a wedge of tanks at a distance of 50-100 meters. As the tanks approach their stopping point at the end of each bound, the infantry must dismount and go in on foot with the tanks to clear the vegetation and rocks of any lurking Daesh who have RPGs.  As usual, every simple statement of mine became attenuated into a long discussion which involved, first, Amin’s translation, and then, interminable questions and comments from Adnan as he struggled to grasp my concepts and convert the concepts to his own Soviet/Iraqi doctrine. I was deeply gratified that the LTs were grasping everything I said, and, even better, in one outstanding case, coming up with an idea of his own to improve on the technique I was teaching.  Specifically, one LT asked if, rather than have the infantry all dismount at once to go in with the tanks, it would be okay to dismount only a small scouting party of infantry at first in order to investigate the ground at the end of the bound. I was effusive in my praise and congratulations for this excellent piece of original thinking, to include giving the LT a Middle Eastern man hug, an act which drew cheers.

 

Before the LT made this suggestion, the LTs were agonizing over how many meters out the infantry should dismount.  Adnan gave the inflexible Iraqi doctrinal answer of 150 meters, but, when I was pressed, I said that there was no fixed number of meters out in U.S. doctrine (at least, not that I am aware of) but that the answer depended on the situation.  I explained (struggling to get through Adnan’s interruptions) that sometimes the hill to which you are bounding will have high, thick grass and sometimes it will have low, thin grass; sometimes it will have big boulders behind which many enemy can hide and sometimes it will be a smooth dune where no one can hide—the answer to how far out you dismount the infantry depends on whether the terrain on the hill at the end of the bound provides many or few hiding places for the enemy.  “Use the brain God gave you to evaluate the situation for yourself!”—this exhortation has become my mantra.

 

Also, it was difficult to explain to Adnan through Amin that while the maximum length of a bound can be just short of the effective range of the cannons of the overwatching element, the bounds can be much shorter if the hills are closer together.

 

In conversations with Amin and Adnan before class, they told me they wanted me to finish the course before the week-long Eid holiday starts on Wednesday.  (This is NOT Eid-al-Fitr which comes at the end of Ramadan but some other Easter-like holiday week.) I said that as long as it would be nobody but me teaching, I could make that deadline easily.  So much for my course master calendar that called for 28 training days, three-quarters of which would be out in the field with the real tanks. We have, so far, had only the one session in the field with real vehicles, and, we might, if we are lucky, have one more.  There simply aren’t enough real vehicles available. Apparently, almost all the tanks, APCs, and IFVs I see in the motor pool are broken down. Almost all the working vehicles the Pesh have are fully committed to the front. Adnan floated the idea that after the completion of this class, he might employ me travelling from post to post presenting two-day versions of my course to higher-ranking officers.  Amin suggested using PowerPoint slides.

 

I noted to myself, feeling a sense of scorn for Adnan and Eemahd, that the two of them have made absolutely zero use of the indoor sand table they stole from me and then festooned with an almost comically elaborate rendition of the strategic situation.

 

After class Amin drove me back to HQ.  I expressed to him my concerns about my proposed speech.  I’m badly worried about saying something politically incorrect that could lead to my assassination or something less dramatic but still very bad.  I told him, as we were driving to HQ, that my speech would have three parts. (Actually, my speech should have four parts, the first part being me telling the Pesh leadership what they are doing right, what their qualities are that I find admirable, and thanking them for their hospitality.)  I told Amin the first part of my speech would be “Provide for Your Young Soldiers as if They Are Your Sons,” i.e., don’t tolerate water jugs that are filthy inside, buy them new jugs (and, interpolation here) inspect them periodically to make sure they stay clean; don’t make your soldiers break apart the ice blocks for their drinking water by smashing the ice on the dirty ground, buy them proper, clean ice picks; don’t tolerate the generals having toilets with shiny clean enamel while the enlisted toilets are encrusted with dark brown filth that is several millimeters thick.  The second part of my speech would be “Do the Small Things Correctly,” i.e., don’t move from the classroom to the motor pool in a loose gaggle but march in formation (and, interpolation here, do proper coordination ahead of time to ensure the vehicles are ready to go and are standing by when the LTs arrive). (Another interpolation here: when you disassemble, clean, and reassemble two different model machine guns next to each other, don’t leave a small part lying on the floor and then not know which machine gun it goes to nor how it is supposed to fit inside the machinegun. Furthermore, don’t treat the situation as a joke, don’t shrug and laugh about it, and don’t walk away with the problem unresolved—God knows where that stray part is now.)  The third and final part of my speech, as I quickly told Amin while driving back to HQ, would be “Do the Big Things Correctly,” i.e., don’t tolerate among you the corruption that steals the money that is intended for the young soldiers. Also, the idea of the KDP and the PUK having their own private Peshmerga armies is insane; it’s like the Republicans and the Democrats having their own private armies, something that the American People would never tolerate. There must be ONE Peshmerga that is loyal to the government of Kurdistan REGARDLESS of whether the KDP or the PUK is in power at that moment. Obviously, this is the part of my speech that leaves me badly worried about my life expectancy. Amin said no, you of course cannot say that last part.  His parting thought to me was to impress on me that this speech will be something that he and I work on TOGETHER. Later, over lunch (Amin did not come to lunch) I worried aloud to Adnan that I did not want to give this speech on Tuesday (the day after tomorrow!) as currently planned because I insisted on visiting the front and seeing the Pesh in action first, and, because I wanted to spend a long time working on the speech with Amin to ensure that it said the appropriate things and was of good quality. Making allowances for Adnan’s fractured grasp of English (he thinks he understands English much better than he actually does) I think he acquiesced in my desires regarding the speech.

 

After lunch, LTC Rahfid provided me with plastic bags containing the new uniform and boots that Shemsadeen had promised to me.  (Shemsadeen had committed himself to making this gift to me withOUT the least murmur from me on this topic.) I saw that the uniforms were marked size large (I take size small).  I put the uniform on and showed Rahfid the ludicrous looking result. He took me to Fahrayduhn so attired and Fahrayduhn made a call on his cell phone to request a correct fitting uniform.  The boots didn’t fit either. I pleaded that I have odd-shaped feet for which it is very difficult to find boots that make a correct fit and that I had to special order the boots I brought with me from the USA.  I would really, really prefer to continue wearing the boots I brought from the Sates.  Please, I said, give these boots to some young jundee who needs them.  I put the uniform and boots back in their plastic wrappers and Rahfid’s NCOIC took them back with no apparent hard feelings.

 

Monday, 21 Sep 15:

 

Adnan and Eemahd are now apparently done with any teaching on their part.  The day was all mine, again, and we moved directly to the outdoor sand table.  I taught travelling, travelling overwatch, and then, I re-taught bounding overwatch but this time integrating motorized infantry into the lesson.

 

Then Adnan arrived and told me to come in to meet with Shemsadeen in Shemsadeen’s office.  Adnan and myself, with Amin translating, had a wondrously warm, cordial and friendly tea and conversation session with Shemsadeen that lasted a long time.  I was effusive in expressing my gratitude for the hospitality and support I had received. I was asked how the training was going. I replied that Shemsadeen should ask the LTs how the training was going when I was NOT present to influence their answers by my mere presence.  Shemsadeen replied that he had already done just that and that the LTs had told him that my course was of great value to them. We started talking about tanks. Shemsadeen said that he knew that the Abrams was named after an American general and expressed his curiosity about this general’s career.  I went full bore into my military historian mode. I first explained the American tradition of naming tanks after generals: Lee, Grant, Stuart, Sherman, Pershing, Chaffee, Walker, Patton. I then declaimed about young LTC Abrams being Patton’s favorite battalion commander during WWII, how Patton always gave Abrams the toughest, most important missions.  I digressed to describe the massive German offensive in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium that led to the 101st Airborne being surrounded in a small town called Bastogne.  I then returned to speaking specifically about Abrams. I described him as commanding the first tank to break the German encirclement and enter Bastogne.  Then, I followed Abrams’ career culminating in being successor to Westmoreland as American commander in Vietnam and his at least partial success in correcting the mess that the incompetent Westmoreland had created.  I next reiterated my insistence that I must visit the front and see the Pesh in combat before I make any speeches. I received the strongest assurance yet, and from Shemsadeen himself, that I would get my wish. I concluded by saying that I knew that the very recent previous big operation—that I had missed—had taken back several Kurdish villages and that I wanted to be part of the next operation that would take back the last of the Kurdish villages still under Daesh control.  Shemsadeen said that the next village to be liberated in an offensive operation was not in fact Kurdish but Turkoman. The previous American general had vetoed the operation but the very recently arrived new American general was in favor of the operation. It was a truly fun and enjoyable social call with Shemsadeen.

 

After returning from the meeting with Shemsadeen, I taught the assault.  I assigned a number of LTs to be the company and platoon commanders so they could have a go at it with the toy tanks and soldiers.  I asked the LT who was playing company commander whether he wanted two tank platoons as his base of fire element and one as his movement element or vice versa.  He opted for 2 tank platoons for his base of fire and 1 for the final close assault. I took over moving the toy tanks. I added both available motorized infantry platoons to the one assaulting tank platoon, explaining that the range to the enemy defensive position was too great for the infantry to be effective in the base of fire role.

 

I explained that IF the enemy defensive line was so long it was impossible to outflank, then, the assault would have to come straight on to make a breach.  But, en shah Allah, an open enemy flank could be found. I assumed an open flank as I continued my demonstration.

 

As I launched into the climactic phase of the assault, I opined that the tanks should concentrate on destroying enemy machine guns and the infantry should concentrate on destroying enemy handheld antitank weapons.  I explained that this is so because machineguns can inflict terrible damage on infantry while tanks are impervious to machineguns and because while handheld antitank weapons are lethal to tanks, they are virtually harmless to infantry. 

 

As I moved the toy tanks and infantry to roll up the Daesh defensive line from the flank, the smartest of the LTs objected that, quote, I was “taking a great risk.”  My assault force was vulnerable to attack in the flank and rear by any ***second echelon*** of Daesh defenders. He spontaneously took command of some dismounted infantry and demonstrated how he would deploy them in a quarter circle to protect the flank and rear of the assault force.

 

I was over-the-top effusive in my expressions of praise and gratitude for this LT, announcing to his classmates that he was destined to become a general.  I gave him a Middle Eastern double cheek man hug to the delight of all.

 

I next recovered my authority by saying that this was an excellent reason to employ two, not one, tank platoons for the final assault, contrary to what the acting company commander had opted to do.  I then moved a second platoon of toy tanks into the assault and I then deployed this second assaulting platoon to be the flank and rear guard of the first assaulting platoon.  

 

Throughout the assault lesson, I constantly hammered on the danger of fratricide of the movement element by the base of fire element.  I stated that in the Kuwait War of 1991, more American tanks were destroyed by fratricide than by enemy action. I described various methods of signals that could be used to mitigate the fratricide danger.  When one of the LTs earnestly spoke up to propose a method of using time-distance based phase lines to control the rate of advance of the assault force across the front of the base of fire element, I likewise pointed him out to his classmates as a future general.

 

Still another of the LTs to spoke up to describe something he had seen in his recent experience of combat.  (I felt inwardly humbled to learn that one of my young students has seen more of war than I have.) This LT stated that a standard Pesh technique was to loudly and publicly announce in advance the time and place of the next Pesh offensive to retake a Kurdish village from the Daesh.  The Pesh did this because, apparently, Daesh morale on the Iraqi Kurdish front was so low they would abandon the village in question without a fight, leaving behind only their IEDs to attrit the Pesh. Amin and I quickly agreed with each other in a mutual aside that while this was an interesting idea with regard to the Daesh, it would be madness against a competent conventional foe.

 

I repeated the assault lesson but THIS TIME employed the luxury of having a scout platoon available to make the movement to contact much faster and easier.

 

*** I emphasized the need to have ENGINEERS moving in the company of the scouts to locate and mark Daesh IEDs. ***

 

Tuesday, 22 Sep 15:

 

Again, we moved directly to the outdoor sand table.  I added in doing the bypass of an isolated enemy position.  I explained that this lesson was not in my book but was still useful against a foe like the Daesh.  Next, I taught the positional defense followed by the mobile defense. I talked in general terms about preplanned artillery targets and target reference points from which to adjust both indirect and direct fires.  I showed the LTs the sample range card and defensive sector sketch in my pocket notebook. Adnan arrived late and launched into another of his interminable interruptions in which he questioned my extreme emphasis on the counterattack as the climax of the mobile defense.  I explained through Amin that the Germans and the Americans made a fanatical religion of the counterattack. I asserted that the counterattack had two purposes: 1) Kill Daesh, kill Daesh, KILL DAESH. 2) Retake the ground given up in the delay in sector phase and restore the original front line.  What if there was a village of Kurdish people in the territory that had been temporarily given up, I rhetorically asked. Adnan agreed to disagree from his Iraqi doctrinal point of view but the LTs seemed to side with me—as they have seemed to do with all of Adnan’s bothersomely prolix interruptions since the course began.  The LTs and I had lots of rollicking good fun practicing the mobile defense with me playing the Daesh, slowly walking toward them as they maneuvered their platoons. They were picking up the stones we used to make hills on the sand table and pantomimed throwing them at my feet when I pantomimed kicking at their final defensive line with my feet.  The LTs all had a good laugh when I pantomimed running away from their counter attack.

 

When my smart, astute, free-thinking LTs questioned using the same platoons that had just fought the delay in sector (and which had been thereby depleted) to make the counterattack, I replied that there were two solutions to this problem:  1) IF you have enough forces, have a pre-designated counterattack force sit behind the final defensive line until called for. 2) If you lack the luxury of having such numerous forces as to permit a separate and untouched counterattack force, then, have your support platoon position itself immediately behind the final defensive line to QUICKLY replenish the platoons from the delay in sector before they are sent into the counterattack.  I then made a show of fetching the toy trucks that served as my fuel and ammo resupply trucks and I placed them in the dirt behind the miniature final defense line. The LTs who performed the next iteration of the mobile defense likewise made a show of running the toy tanks that had just returned from the delay in sector past the toy fuel and ammo trucks before launching their counterattack.   

 

The LTs were desperate to leave early in order to be on time for payday activities elsewhere before the start of the holiday long weekend.  They helpfully gathered up my toy tanks and soldiers and lined them up on the concrete foundation shelf of the classroom building. They then quietly snuck away in ones and twos as Adnan went on and on to Amin and I in another of his impassioned and endless rambles.  He was concerned about my lack of mention of countermeasures against aerial attack. I pulled out my copy of FM 17-15, Tank Platoon, and, using my finger, pointed out the paragraphs and illustrations for first passive and then active air defense.  I went through leading a helicopter by half a football field, leading a jet by two football fields, etc.   Adnan was satisfied by my hasty exegesis.  Given the Pesh’s lack of Stinger and Patriot model missiles, we agreed that passive air defense measures would have to be the mainstay of the Pesh. Adnan animatedly described his experience of how massed small arms fire against enemy aircraft had been highly effective during the Iran war by frightening away enemy pilots even if it did not shoot them down.

 

Wednesday, 23 Sep 15:

 

Off for long Moslem holiday.  The pudgy but warmly friendly and helpful Major who is Fahrayduhn’s A.D.C. brought me another uniform from Shemsadeen in a plastic wrapper as well as another pair of boots.  I instantly saw that the uniform was size medium, so, I immediately gave it back without even trying it on. With the help of my Kurdish-English dictionary, I made the major understand that my uniform size is small-long.  The major was cheerfully agreeable about the situation.

 

Thursday, 24 Sep 13

 

This being a Moslem religious holiday, Fahrayduhn invited me to come along with him and several other officers on a handshake and greetings tour of the enlisted barracks and mess hall.  After about 30 minutes walking among the barracks, we ended up at a tea and conversation session at the officers’ mess of the tank battalion. We did not sit at the dining table, but in big, posh chairs and sofas at one end of the dining table.  I sat immediately next to Fahrayduhn. The TV was on, showing a Kurdish news program. I recognized Barzani making a speech and I pointed and said “Barzani” to Fahrayduhn. He said that yes, I was correct, that was Barzani. I used this as an opportunity to say to Fahrayduhn that I was confused by there being two Peshmergas, one KDP and the other PUK.  Fahrayduhn favored me with a concise spoken narrative of the history of Kurdish politics. He and I got into a fairly intense discussion of the Sykes-Picot Treaty, Woodrow Wilson’s opposition to same, the perverse Turkish phrase “Mountain Turks” as a twisted code phrase for Kurds in Turkey, the various ways in which Iraq, Iran, and Turkey helped each other repress the Kurds (in the early 1970s, those three countries made a treaty under the terms of which the armed forces of any of them could enter as deeply as 30 kilometers into the territory of another if in hot pursuit of Kurds), the various times at which Iraqi Peshmerga crossed the border to help Iranian Pesh, Joe Biden’s plan to partition Iraq, etc.  I took the opportunity to impress upon Fahrayduhn that I must never be seen having anything to do with the PKK or I would get in big trouble with my own government. Fahrayduhn explained that the PUK maintained close ties with the PKK but he reassured me that he understood my situation completely and he told me that I would not be placed in any such difficult situation. I imparted to Fahrayduhn the American dismay at the insanity of three-sided wars in the Middle East, such as in Yemen, where the government, the Houthis, and Al-Queda are all fighting each other simultaneously. Ditto for the current situation in Syria.

 

*** Walking back to main HQ, I asked Fahrayduhn where the Iraqi Pesh obtained repair parts for Russian tanks that were 30 years old.  He sort of laughed and said, “black market.” He further explained that at first the Iraqi Pesh obtained parts from the remnants of Saddam’s regime, but now, they were forced to obtain black market tank parts in Syria. ***

 

Fahrayduhn next volunteered the information that he felt frustrated by the inability of the top Iraqi Pesh leadership to understand how to properly use tanks.  He said that the top Pesh leaders were infantry mountain fighters who didn’t use tanks correctly. He complained that the top Pesh leaders used tanks individually as mobile pillboxes, that they failed to employ tanks en masse.  He said that only very recently, with the coming of the Daesh, had the top Pesh leaders started to grasp the need to employ tanks en masse as offensive weapons.

 

Obviously, this last exchange made clear to me the obstacles I face in my desire to be not only the Pesh Von Steuben for tanks but also the Pesh Guderian.

 

Tuesday, 29 Sep 15:

 

First day back in class after the long holiday.  As Adnan told me last week, this week was to be quick review week prior to the final exam.  As he had warned me last week, Amin was not able to come and translate.  Adnan was, as always, an hour or more late. Eemahd and Muhammad were the only authority figures present.  To avoid wasted time, I simply mounted the front stage with the toy tanks and signal flags and started drilling each LT in turn on platoon formations; I would use the flags to signal the formation I wanted and then I would look over my shoulder to see how each LT did.  (It was obvious that I had the silent approval of Muhammad and Eemahd to just jump right into it like I did.) Fahrayduhn showed up just in time (with his XO Major) to translate for me while I put the LTs through contact and action drills. I would set up a scenario such as a few guys with AKs left side or RPGs within effective RPG range (350 meters) right side or RPGs beyond effective RPG range left side or whatever and then I would observe and critique how each LT did with the toy tanks.  (Fahrayduhn informed me that a new and improved version of the RPG had started to appear in the Middle East with a range of 700 meters.) After a break, we went outside where I continued the review by having the LTs execute first the slow and then the fast methods of bounding overwatch. After another break, we returned outside to review the bypass. Fahrayduhn had gone back to HQ to take care of business, so that left Adnan to translate via Muhammad and Eemahd as best as possible. In this review phase, I added two points of sophistication I omitted when I first taught the bypass:  1. Using scouts to first locate and report the enemy position to be bypassed. 2. Using 2nd echelon motorized infantry to totally eliminate the bypassed enemy position after the scouts and tanks had sped on by to reach the vital “oil field” in the short time allotted.  As usual, lots of impassioned discussion between Adnan and Muhammad with Eemahd making his contribution. As the LTs were leaving at the end of the school day (1200 hours) Adnan showed me an elaborate hand written schedule he composed for how the rest of my review lessons would be interleaved with classes he would teach.  No surprise, his schedule made no sense whatsoever in the context of how I had designed the sequence of my classes to go, specifically, he wanted my next topic to be consolidation and reorganization when I had not yet finished the movement to contact nor the assault. He was quite gracious in granting me permission to deviate from what he had written (God love him.)

 

Wednesday, 30 Sep 15:

 

Today was, again, all mine, Adnan’s elaborate schedule which he showed me the day before notwithstanding.  As was the case yesterday, attendance was disappointingly low among the LTs, no doubt due to the fact that this was a work week of only two days duration following a long holiday.  Amin was, as he had warned me, absent all this week, Adnan was an hour or so late, and young Jundee Hussein was not available until the second hour, so, that left it to Muhammad to translate for me, as crazy as that situation was.  It was much less farcical than I feared it would be, no doubt helped by the fact that everything I was saying was review. We went over travelling and travelling overwatch, a.k.a., the two methods of doing a movement to contact when the terrain is perfectly flat, thereby rendering bounding overwatch pointless.  Hussein showed up to translate for the next review lesson which was the assault. Then Adnan arrived, Hussein left, and Adnan translated for my review of the pursuit and consolidation and reorganization followed by my review of the defense. The LTs have it all down quite well by now and I was quite happy that the burden of the review lessons actually was carried by the LTs as they performed all the moves with the toy tanks and soldiers; not much more than a few initial cues were required from me to start any given sequence of moves being carried out satisfactorily.  At about 1130, I announced that I was done, finished, I had no more to teach, and I formally gave the course back to Adnan for which he warmly thanked me.

 

As I was conducting my final inventory of toy tanks and soldiers, Adnan borrowed my repro Civil War Dragoon officer’s kepi and put it on his own head for some lighthearted photos.

 

Concluding Note to Readers:

By this time I was so violently sick from bacterial infections picked up from eating the local food and drinking the local water that I had no choice but to get on the next plane headed toward Western medicine.  I got off the plane in Frankfurt and headed for the medical clinic in the airport to get myself stabilized for the rest of my trip home. Upon returning home, I went to the E.R. and was put on antibiotics for several weeks.  I never made it to the fighting front and I never made my speech to the Peshmerga leadership. I have maintained sporadic contact with some of the people I worked with Iraqi Kurdistan.                 

 

 

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Israel: The Unlikely Nation

israel creation

The recent unveiling of the “deal of the Century,” begun with the probably forlorn hope of bringing peace to the Holy  land prompts me to go back and see how this small nation  came to pass particularly when there are so many people who  seem to live and breathe  its destruction.

There are a bewildering cascade of events and array of national interests that led to the founding of a Jewish State in Palestine. It is not easy to begin understanding, and made more so by the the cross currents of national interests, few of which had anything directly to do with the “Jewish question.”

I am not going into the futile issue of rights and wrongs and who has the moral high ground- a subject that continues to elicit angry partisans churning out roomfuls of vitriolic literature, few of which add one iota of new information to the “Palestinian Issue.”  My quest trying to find a truly  neutral  historical account  has been fruitless. About the closest to that neutrality and a very brief narration of the Israeli origin is found in Michael J. Cohen’s book, The Origins and Evolution of the Arab -Zionist Conflict

So I start with the Jews. The 1860’s in Europe saw a brief and illusionary period in East Europe, especially the Russian Empire where 80% of the Jews resided.  Tsar Alexander II, gave the Jewish communities hope  of emancipation with a number of liberal decrees but was assassinated in 1881 and the pogroms against Jewish settlements recommenced with renewed fury.   A Russian Jew, Leo Pinsker, began to write about the plight of the world wide Jewish community, positing that the Jews were aliens where ever they were, and they would never be accepted into Gentile society.  Jews began fleeing from inhospitable Eastern Europe but only a minute percentage chose to emigrate to Palestine. Most went to Western Europe and the United States,  prompting the acclaimed father of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, to quip that the Jews might flee anti-Semitism but they carried it with them in their baggage. In France the notorious Alfred Dreyfus case of 1894 substantiated the view that nowhere, even in the home of human rights, could Jews be sure of equitable treatment.

Zionism was not a religious movement but a socialist secular movement with an underpinning of cultural and religious motivations, i.e., a return to their ancestral home¹. Quite understandably, most Western European Jews vociferously opposed the Zionist movement, especially German Jews, which, ironically, was one reason the German Jews were so reluctant to leave Hitler’s Germany in the 1930’s. In fact the most outspoken opponent of Zionism in Great Britain was Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India, the highest ranking Jewish member of the British government. Truth to be told, the principal reason so many Western European Jews were against Zionism was the belief that the Europeans would now claim, “Ok you now have a home, leave!” A not ridiculous belief by any means! Among the English upper classes and the military higher ranks, anti -Semitism was prevalent. The political class with the exception of Churchill, Prime Minister Lloyd George sand a few others were also adamantly against establishing a “home for the Jews.” The British renown statesman, George Curzon, and a heavy hitter in political circles, was dead set against the scheme, opining, “that I cannot conceive of a worse bondage than to relegate an advanced and intellectual community to exile in Palestine.” What would become of the original inhabitants he wondered. Would they become simply “hewers of wood and drawers of water?” Curzon also saw the Sykes-Picot treaty as a document drawn up in “gross ignorance” with “fantastic and incredible boundaries” (Curzon by David Gilmour, an excellent but weighty book).

So why did the British end up with “the Palestine?” Well there were many very involved and intricate questions of which I can only provide the essence, not the details.  Where to begin? Well maybe with the visit of the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II to the Middle East in 1894. He met with the Ottoman Sultan (and last one) Abdelhamid II, a rather weak but well-meaning ruler. He established great rapport with the Sultan giving a fulsome speech of praise.  According to some other sources the Kaiser became enamored of Islam and saw it as a manly religion versus the passivity of Christianity.  Nevertheless, the Kaiser, who was full of contradictions, also wanted to build up the Lutheran Christianity of Germany in Palestine. German influence was already strong in Turkey and the massive German retinue of 100 soldiers and many palace courtiers accompanying  the Kaiser was indeed impressive to the Turkish media and people.

Kaiser into Jeruslaem

The favorable impression of the Kaiser and German officers who followed up the Kaiser’s visit is chronicled by General Liman Von Sanders in his book, Five Years in Turkey. He wrote an interesting account of his time with the Turks, very positive in his view of their fighting qualities but he deprecated their administrative efficiency. The Germans with traditional efficiency trained an army which fought with great valor, surprising skill, and not so surprising brutality in World War I. They dealt the Allies  two of their most devastating defeats, at Gallipoli  (1916)  and in Mesopotamia.(1916)

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General Leman Von Sanders

The Germans under the grandiose vision of Kaiser Wilhelm sought to rival the British empire in collecting colonies in the East, including Palestine, making a triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on a white charger with a huge escort of Turkish and German soldiers and officials. Moreover the German were constructing  the Berlin to Baghdad railroad which had become very important to German imperialistic designs. Turkish support was essential.  Turkey heavily influenced by pro German Turkish military men, and poorly conducted British diplomatic efforts joined the Germans and Austrian -Hungarian Empire in the war against France and Great Britain.  despite British attempts to win their support, or at least neutrality.

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Turkish soldiers of WWI. In actuality most wore sandals and were very poorly equipped

Ok.  Let us count the ways Britain came to be to be the unhappy possessors of the Palestinian problem. First off was the East West debate. Within the British government one of the great debates concerning WWI was centered around the question of what strategy was best to defeat Germany. The French and British war on the Western front had turned into a quagmire. Bloody useless offensives resulted in a few miles (or yards) of gain and with the loss of thousands of lives. Far seeing people like Winston Churchill advocated an Eastern strategy, i.e., an attack through the “soft underbelly” of the “Triple Alliance”- an attack on the perceived weakest member of the German allies- Turkey. Therefore the Middle East became the focus of the war, including the people and the territory. However the implementation of this policy resulted in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign as well as the equally disastrous Mesopotamian campaign in Iraq. Turkish valor and spirit with German expertise was greatly underestimated by the British. Moreover, British and French naval and land force coordination, planning, and logistics support was abysmal.They had to look elsewhere for victory.

The British had five strategic objectives in the war: not necessarily in order of importance

  1. Maintain access to oil.
  2. Keep the French in the war
  3. Get the Americans in the war
  4. Keep the Suez canal in British control
  5. Control potential Islamic anti-British sentiment
  6. But at the same time secure perceived world wide “Jewish power.”

 

  1. The oil. The great British Navy was switching from coal to oil for their ships and the greatest access to it was from the oil fields of Iraq and Persia , especially around Mosul. As Lord Curzon put it, “the Allies floated to victory on a wave of oil.”map_of_iraq

 

2. Keep the French in the war. The French by 1917 had suffered a huge amount of casualties, and the promise of a war-ending offensive ended in disaster. This resulted in a mutiny that threatened to collapse the French army. Great Britain was desperate to keep France in the War and one of the sweeteners was the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided the Levant into French-British zones of influence. Palestine fell within the British zone. (The French disagreed but to no avail.) There are a ton of books on the evils of the Sykes-Picot agreement, however after decades of Arab and Western academics moaning and wailing about this agreement, which divided the Arab world into squabbling nations, there seems to be little enthusiasm among Arab leaders to erase the borders. Despite many prognostications predicting the demise of Arab borders, the Arab state system has proven stronger than many short lived unions as well as the Islamic State’s forlorn attempt to reinvent the Caliphate.

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Sykes-Picot Agreement. nebulous and amenable to interpretation many different ways

3.Get the Americans in the war. The Russian empire had collapsed and with German assistance, the Communists undermined the Russian will to fight, and as a consequence Russia left the War. A tremendous number of German and Austrian forces were then free to move to the western front, facing the war weary British and French. The outcome of the  was in question. The question was how to get President Wilson and America in the war? The British astutely decided on an indirect approach. President Wilson had a number of very influential Jewish confidants, sympathetic to the Zionist cause, such as Judge Louis Brandeis, Hans Morgenthau, and Felix Frankfurter. Wilson although sympathetic to a Jewish Palestine, was suspicious of a British Palestine, but in the end, as he did later in Paris, threw out great ideas and then walked away from implementation. Another important figure in winning Western support for a Jewish Palestine was Chaim Weizmann. He was a scientist of considerable repute, born in Russia and a naturalized British citizen, and close to the British politician Arthur Balfour. He was also influential in American political circles, molding public opinion and leading politicians to view the Balfour declaration positively. He also invented and gave to the British government a process for extracting acetone from maize, giving the British a vital lead in developing more lethal explosives. Of course German brutality conducting their submarine warfare, and the infamous “Zimmerman affair” were even more instrumental in pushing the Americans into the war

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Judge Felix Frankfurter Supreme Court Judge nominated by President Roosevelt and accepted by the senate without a single dissenting vote.

4.Muslim Sensibilities.The British were deathly afraid of the impact of the Ottoman Empire and the Sultan throwing their lot in with Germans. The Sultan, as the legitimate successor of the Caliphs of the Ommayad and Abbasid dynasties, was the titular head of all Muslims throughout the world, announced a Jihad against the British and French, which, like today, seems to cast a paralyzing fear over the West. The British Empire contained over 100 million Muslim subjects and made a ready-made target for the Germans. The myth of an “Islamic world” seems to perpetuate itself. The German military advisors in Turkey believed that the British Muslim soldiers would refuse to fire on their fellow Turkish Muslim soldiers. The British commanders, who had a very large number of Indian troops fighting for them, mostly Muslim, recalled earlier Muslim Indian soldier revolts, one time based on a rumor that ammunition was greased with pig fat. The Kaiser’s warm relations with the Ottoman sultan and the ongoing Berlin to Baghdad Express railroad which opened the way for German “archeologists” and many German “tourists” to find reasons to stay in the Middle East, worried the British overseers of the British empire. The British, who always pride themselves on an intimate knowledge of the Arab culture, began casting about for a Muslim counterweight to the Sultan, and they believed they found him in the person of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, ruler of Hijaz and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Sir Henry McMahon, high commissioner of Egypt, began a correspondence with Sharif Hussein in 1915-16 making vague promises of some sort of Arab nation with Hussein as the ruler. At first, little became of it, but with the defection of a Kurdish soldier from the Ottoman army, Lt. Sharif Al Faruki, from Mosul, his claims of a secret Arab society al ‘Ahd, which was plotting against the Turkish control of Arab lands, convinced the British to step up their overtures to the Sharif of Mecca. The British then began to see an Arab revolt as an important asset in their war against the Turks. An Arab Bureau  was established in Cairo and with that  came the adventures of Lawrence of Arabia.  Actually the military value of Lawrence and his tribal Arab irregulars was rather minuscule, but later it became very important politically….especially in popular folklore. Later, after the Turks and Germans were pushed out of the Arab world. Sharif Hussein’s third son, Feisal was temporarily installed as the king of Syria, but as the French then reminded the British of the Sykes Picot treaty, and they did not approve of Feisal.  Feisal was ousted from Syria by the French but the British found a home for him in Iraq as the new king.

Feisel Iraq

Feisal Of Iraq

But returning to the central issue of the Jews and the Zionists,   the entrance of Prince Feisal  into the drama became importance because Prince Feisal and the Zionist prime mover, Chaim Weizman met and discussed the immigration of Jews to Palestine. Apparently the Zionist leader and Prince Feisal got along famously and Feisal signed a document indicating he had no problem with Jewish immigration to Palestine. Of course this is disputed, as is everything else regarding Palestine. But the champion of Arab independence, T.E. Lawrence  was there and read the document to Feisal. Other sources remarked that Feisal thought very little of Palestinians as Arabs, a cultural point that tracks with the general eastern and Gulf Arab attitude toward Palestinians today. A similar exchange between Felix Frankfurter, an important American Zionist and later supreme court justice , contained this in a letter from Feisal to Frankfurter.

 

“We Arabs, especially the educated ones among us, look with deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist organization to the peace conference and we regard them as moderate and proper.”

Later in the same letter , Feisal adds. “We wish the Jews a hearty welcome home.” BTW, 10 years later Feisal said he did not remember writing the latter.

 

This set the stage for the Balfour declaration, issued by the Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, in 1917. This nefarious document, which has been interpreted, reinterpreted, manipulated, scrubbed for satanic verses, blamed for everything including the heartbreak of psoriasis, is a fairly straightforward document. In a letter to Lord Rothschild, a wealthy Jewish banker, Lord Balfour wrote that his majesty’s government “views with favor the establishment in Palestine, a home for the Jewish people……….it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non Jewish communities in Palestine…

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Arthur Balfour

6.The “ Jewish international power”

Probably nothing so illustrates the ignorance upon which politicians, rulers, and intelligence agencies made decisions ( and still do) than the belief shared by many Western diplomats and observers that there existed in Constantinople a dark conspiracy which involved the Turkish/ Ottoman and German governments, supported by the financial power of international Jewry. It was a natural result of the fear, prevalent at the time, which brought about the popularity of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a book supposedly written by Russian intelligence Czarists, feeding suspicions among Europeans that international Jewry was manipulating governments. (It is still popular among Islamists and extreme right wing fanatics). With the demise of the Czarist Russian empire and the advent of the communist take over, the number of Jews involved the communist movement gave rise to suspicions of Russian involvement in ousting the “Colonial Powers” as well. The aggressive Germans, with a star struck and mercurial Kaiser, who had also met Theodore Herzl previous to his trip to the Ottoman Empire, was convinced by him to plead the Zionist cast to the Sultan. He was reputed to have tried to convince the Sultan to give his blessing to Jewish settlement in Palestine. This prompted to the British to attach some urgency to a release of the Balfour letter.

protocols of zion

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Has been translated into almost every language and always finds a receptive audience.I saw one  copy prominently displayed in the Amman Sheraton.  sad commentary on the zeal of many to find an outside reason for their miserable lives.

 

So there you have it, a home for the Jews established by imperial powers with very little regard for the Jews or Arabs, mostly by politicians with very little empathy for the people affected by the swirl of great power politics. Do I blame the Brits? Absolutely not! As Elizabeth Monroe, one of the most noted historians of the British Empire in the Middle East, referring to Palestine, wrote, “Measured by British interests alone, it was one of the greatest mistakes of our imperial history.” Absolutely not! German submarine warfare had so affected the importation of food to the British Isles that people were living on a calorie intake below the minimum amount for sustained survival. The French were faltering of the Western front, the Russian collapse allowed many German and Austrian divisions to return to the Western Front, and the Americans were still debating whether to enter the war. Nation fighting for its survival should not be judged on its actions by chronocentric polemics of ideologues who know little or nothing of history. Do I blame the Zionists? Absolutely not! They were unwanted wherever they were, despite some overcoming adversity to become tolerated, but never entirely accepted. Looking at Palestine in those days, one could see a largely undeveloped land, sparse population and mostly barren. Arab nationalist advocate T.E. Lawrence wrote, “The sooner the Jews farm it, all the better, their colonies are bright spots in a desert.” I cannot blame the Arabs either, although their feigned sense of victim hood has become irritating and a distraction from learning. Their corrupt and rapacious leadership over the years, with the connivance of some Western academics, has turned Palestine into an Islamic and Arab tragedy. It did not need to turn out that way but it has. History is full of serendipitous events for some and disastrous for others. Christopher Columbus sailed to find gold and spices of East Asia and found the new world. That worked out well for the millions wishing to have opportunity and escape persecution from all over the world but not so well for the Indian inhabitants.The Europeans were engaged in a brutal struggle for empire and inadvertently founded a home for people who did not have one. It is the way of the world.

After note.. A Home for the Jews, as earlier proposed by Western Powers included the Sinai, Uganda and later Australia, and Tasmania. But as one might suspect , none of these were very appealing to the Jewish community, especially those of Western Europe and even those of the Middle East. As related by Sir Arnold Wilson, (Loyalties: Mesopotamia 1914-1917). Iraqi Jews said, “This is the garden of Eden (Mesopotamia, Iraq)). It is from this country that Adam was driven forth. Give us good government and we will make this country flourish. For us Mesopotamia is a home, a national home to which the Jews of Bombay, Persia and Turkey will be glad to come.” Unfortunately because of the innate exclusiveness of Arabism and religious triumphalism inherent in Islamism, The Jews were expelled and Iraq is the poorer because of it.

The Zimmerman message was  a secret message  by the German foreign Office  offering  Mexico the states of  New Mexico, Texas and Arizona to declare war against the United States also it sought to promote rebellion among the many German immigrants in the U.S. The sinking of the Lusitania by a German  submarine killing 123 Americans was a result of the unrestricted submarine warfare adopted by the Germans to starve the British.

BTW The Mexican President seriously considered the proposal but his Generals said  wisely …no way! One of the reasons they gave……. The anglo Texan civilians were too  well armed and would not submit to Mexican domination. Keep your weapons Texans!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Iraqi Army: the Wild Card

izwith barham salih Kurd leader

Me with Barham Salih in 2004, now the president of Iraq

As the Iraqi president continues to discuss with political blocs names of candidates to fill in the post of Prime Minister, the pressure from demonstrators to select an independent figure grows. So far the speculation in the media suggests the head of Iraq’s national intelligence Mustafa Al-Kazimi, and former communications minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi have emerged as likely most candidates, but as it appears there is a continuing impasse in selection of a Prime Minister, the environment for a military leader to assume control, by appointment or coup grows.

map_of_iraq

The Iraqi people see the army as the one institution of which they could be proud, even though the army has been involved in a number of brutal suppressions of domestic discontent, and has demonstrated a rather mediocre performance against the Israelis. They have always venerated the Iraq army from the time of its founding under the British. However, due to its earlier involvement in coups, especially the bloody one of 1958, and Iraqi politics, Saddam Hussein, who created the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard to balance the regular army, did not trust it. From then until now the regular army has not been deeply involved in the national politics and has not been an actor in the political chaos enveloping the nation since 2003.

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Iraqi Shi’a militia

The collapse of the Iraqi army in 2014 depicted it as a hapless fighting organization and it became an object of ridicule, as well as the American training that preceded the collapse. The reality of the situation was that when the ill-considered withdrawal of American trainers from Iraq in 2011, Iraqi politicians reshaped the army to configure to political considerations and many professional officers left the army. It quickly evolved into a corrupt institution maintained for political and financial reasons by the Shi’a politicians. Its performance in 2014 was an example of its woeful effectiveness.  However with the return of American trainers in 2014, a slow improvement began and a degree of professionalism returned. In the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) several units of the Iraqi army demonstrated combat mettle and impressive effectiveness. One the best is the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), which, is now under the direct control of the Iraqi Prime Minister. Another is the 9th Mechanized division which has most of the best armor in the Iraqi army. These two units carried the fight to the ISIS.  The CTS organization, which is the headquarters of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) Forces, also known as the Golden Division, lost a large number of their personnel as they performed as shock troops ferreting the ISIS terrorists out the city of Mosul.  Fighting in a traditional Arab city such as Mosul is one of the difficult operations one can attempt and the ISOF took many casualties doing it.

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Iraqi army officer cadets

 

The ISOF been rebuilt to some extent but its present capabilities are probably not up to pre-2014 standards, and some of the former prime minister Al-Maliki’s induced corruption has crept in, but it is still a good unit. The former commander of this unit, Lt. General Abdul-Wahhab Al Saadi became a popular figure and has been lionized by many of the current Iraqi protestors who are frustrated by the corruption and inept governing regime. Because of his popularity he was, in typical Arab style, pulled out of his command over troops and relegated to a desk job, which he rejected and preferred to retire. This is a symptom of one of the main problems affecting all Arab armies, the politicization of the officer corps. Advancement is the reward for mediocrity.

To an extent , the effort to establish a quota system to create the army with the “face of Iraqi diversity,“ requiring the military to represent general proportion of the sectarian groups, i.e., Shi’a, Sunni and Kurds,, has been a drawback, as it requires the absorption of many recruits of lower standards just to meet the quota system. However, on the other hand, because of their historical and traditional role, composing the majority of the officer corps, the return of the Sunni officers has re-energized the quest for professionalism. While the quota is an obviously important political measure to forge a sense of Iraqi solidarity, it, to some observers in Iraq believe it does not enhance the quality of the army. I would suggest suggest, however, that it has increased the professionalism of the officer corps, with a greater loyalty to the nation rather that political blocs.

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American training of Iraqi army

Another factor of importance is that the regular army has had far more exposure to American training and culture and many are pro-American in attitude, particular the officers at a junior and middle level. This sets them at odds with the Iranian supported Shi’a militias, many basically paid and directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to further Iranian interests. The innate rivalry to be expected between the Shi’a militias and regular army has grown to animosity down to the junior officer rank, even among the Shi’a officers.

So how does this play out?

The main point is this; It only takes a few units to effect a coup d’ etat. Most military coups in the Middle East have been carried out with very few units. There are three main criteria; one is that is that be a cohesive unit in which the officers are loyal to their commander, and the troops obey their officers. The troops need not be particularly in sync with the political motivations of their officers and commander.  Secondly the unit must be near the capitol to seize the primary means of communications and governing institutions to move quickly and unobtrusively into the governing center. Thirdly the coup must be done with lighting speed and firm direction. The loss of will on the part of the Turkish plotters in the 2016 attempted overthrow of Erdogan is one example of a loss of will. The book to read on this is  the classic  Coup d’ Etat: A Practical Handbook. Revised Edition. by Edward Luttwak.

There are several aspects of Iraq that make a coup d’ etat easier. Iraq, like most Arab counties is a mostly an urban population and is centralized around three main cities of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul.   For generations it has been governed by an authoritarian highly centralized regime. All power emanates from Baghdad. Take Baghdad and the rest of the country will follow, perhaps not immediately, but inevitably.

Iraq has been soaked in blood for decades. The people are tired of constant tension, violence, wars, and pervasive corruption.  The present situation presents a picture of a total breakdown of authority and order.  The old Arab saying, which could be applied anywhere in the world, ” a thousand days of tyranny is better than one day of chaos.” In Iraq, some (perhaps quite a few) yearn for the dictatorial Saddam regime and all wish for a strong leader to appear.  The mishmash of various Shi’a armed political organizations, all vying for power, destroying Iraq in the process, has worn the luster off their earlier heroic stance against the depredations of the ISIS, following the collapse of the Army in 2014.

An ambitious Iraqi general with a degree of charisma, a strong will, and from a reputable family,  with a loyal unit of perhaps no more than a reinforced brigade  with heavy weaponry could overpower the lightly armed militia groups. These groups are not unified, do not have uniform direction, and lack the religious fervor they possessed against the Sunni ISIS. Their leaders are mostly criminal type thugs and do not engender respect among the regular army officers. In a head to head confrontation, the militia groups could not prevail against armor and artillery. As Hafez Assad did against the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama in 1982, using artillery units manned by mostly Sunni soldiers, he pummeled the city until the Muslim Brotherhood was broken.  The Iraqi unit could do the same against the militia stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad.  The Shi’a militias would splinter as the undisciplined militiamen of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) remember their first priority is their families and leave the battlefield to save them. One must remember that in the Middle East the “hearts and minds” philosophies are not only disregarded, but also actually seen as weakness.

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Iraqi soldiers celebrate capture of Mosul

The conventional wisdom that the mostly Shi’a soldiers of the army would not fire on their fellow coreligionists, Shi’a militia members, is simply not viable. As has been shown so many times in recent era, the quest for power, or survival, always trumps religious considerations, even in the Islamic world. In the Shi’a revolt against the Saddam regime following the Gulf war in 1991, many Shi’a tribes not only failed to support the rebellion but also actively fought against it. In the American liberating invasion, the hoped for Shi’a collaboration did not materialize and later they became the prime opponents of the American efforts to fashion some sort of a viable democratic government.

As the military attaché in Jordan during the Palestinian- Jordanian civil war (some say Jordanian Arab Army versus the Palestinian Liberation Organization) I watched the resentment of the ordinary Jordanian soldiers build day after day as the PLO Fedayeen drove around in their Toyotas, harassing people, showing off their tiger uniforms , flirting  with young women,  and basically indicating they were in charge. The same is happening in Iraq. The militia will continue to play the hero with all the publicity and Western “experts” lauding their prowess, or opining that we must deal with them. This “prowess” was primarily in terms of propaganda in the dark days against the ISIS, as they swarmed into the streets of Baghdad, giving residents a feeling of security as the routed Iraqi army fled south from Mosul. However in the years of the tortuous march up country, reclaiming Iraq against the ISIS, it was the Army and the CTS that did most of the fighting. The militias followed as a sort of mop up force.

Since the regular army shows some attachment to the American military and the Shi’a militia forces are in the pocket of the Iranians, this coup would have international repercussions, leading some to forecast the destruction of the army. I disagree. Iran would not venture to put conventional troops into Iraq and the probable entrance of more IRGC forces would only lead to greater embarrassment for Iran by turning the coup into a classic Arab- Persian struggle. Of course this assessment can only be valid if the United States continues to show some backbone in the continuing confrontation. The Iranians must remain fearful of strong American intervention.

Is there a charismatic power hungry military Army commander (or perhaps an idealist) who can fill the role of the “man on horseback?” I do not know, but my background of Middle East experience suggests there is one, and as the turmoil in Iraq continues, public entreaties and pressure for someone to clean up the mess will create the right environment for the man, even if he, like Mohammed Naguib of Egypt, will only be temporary until an Iraqi Nasser emerges.   In the meantime the Iraqi army tanks and artillery remain in cantonments, waiting for the orders.

 

 

 

 

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Oman: An Amazing Arab Country

Of all the twenty plus countries I have visited or lived in over the years, one of the most interesting is the Sultanate of Oman. Certainly it is the most interesting of all the countries, emirates, etc in the Arabia peninsula. The diversity of people, cultures,  topography, history and strategic location  make it a singularly important  small nation that few, even American Middle East “experts” know much about.( Digression…more and more I put parenthesis around the term Middle East “experts,” particularly after their whining and idiotic reactions to the  elimination of the “Che Guevera” of the Middle East,  Qassem Suleimani.  Also I needed refuge from the fake “impeachment” show trial.

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The Sultanate of Musqat and Oman as it was originally known. The Musqat region in red and the Omani Imamate in orange.

I visited there with an officer student in about 2000 or earlier and I was very impressed with the possibilities of the country with the right leadership.  Since 1970 until January 2020 they had that leadership, under the Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said who died on 10 January  2020.  Qaboos was  gay and had no children. He was married briefly for cosmetic reasons but divorced a few years ago. He selected his cousin Haitham bin Tariq al Said as the new ruler.I know very little about Haitham but had a chance to observe the Sultan while visiting Salawah, the western- most city in Oman.  Amid the blaring of horns and a lot of yelling we watched a caravan of the Sultan in a convertible followed by  a number of pickup vehicles with a bunch of young men packed into them. Unlike the rest of the Arab world,  he had little or no security escort.  The young men did not appear to be armed.  How different from every other place I had visited or lived in during my time in the Middle East over the years.

Sultan Qaboos sent his father  Sultan, Said Bin Taimur, 1932-1970  packing after  Qaboos returned from the British Military Academy (Sandhurst). Bin Taimur was a larger than life character. He was the very embodiment of a reactionary and feudal leader. He told the British commander of the Sultan’s forces, Colonel David Smiley, that he did not want any more health clinics, saying,

We are a very poor country which can only support small population. At present many children  die in infancy, and so the population does not increase. If we build clinics many more will survive- but for what? To starve? “

When British officials pressed him to educate his people he replied,

“Where would the teachers come from? …They would come from Cairo and spread seditious ideas among their pupils. And what is there here for a young man with with education?  He would go to the university in Cairo or the London School of Economics, finish in Moscow and come  back here foment trouble.” The Sultan may have been reactionary but he was no dummy.  His only son, Qabuus returned from Sandhurst and  sent his father to London for good, assuming the rule of Oman.

However Oman has never been an easy  country to rule. It’s history  is replete with brutal factional and tribal warfare, dating back to the original division of the Arabs, the Adnani and Qatani tribal confederations. In fact there are some 200 tribes that reside in Oman, which coalesce around two main factions, the Ghafiri and Hinawi confederations. This rivalry is magnified by the fact that the Hinawi strongly identify with the Ibadis and the Hinawi with the Sunni.

The Ibadis are one of the three main sects of Islam, the Sunni, Shi’a and Ibadi. The Ibadis have a long and bloody history. They originated with the Kharajites, the most militant of the various forms of Islam. The Kharajites originally formed as the result of  the Battle of Siffin in which Ali, the son in law of the Prophet Mohammed was vying for the leadership of the Umma ( the Muslim Community). Ali unwisely chose to negotiate with the pretender Muawiyya, and came out the loser. The Kharajites, ( also known as the seceders), believing that Allah did not accept arbitration,  withdrew from the support of Ali and became his most implacable enemy. One of them assassinated Ali near Kufa in Iraq.

The Kharijites evolved into many branches,  mostly very violent , and influenced the leader of the Zinj revolt in Iraq, who led the black slaves ( originally imported from East Africa) of the Abbasid regime, employed in the saltpeter mines of southern Iraq, in one of the bloodiest revolts of all history. According to the German orientalist, Theodore Noldeke, the storming of the last bastion of the Zinj rebels, “Thus ended one of the bloodiest and most destructive rebellions in the history of West Asia records.”

The branch of the Kharajites who settled in Oman evolved into a rather inoffensive branch and in practice their day to day religious activities differ very little from the Sunni. however they generally do not intermarry with the Sunni and zealously guard their identity.

At one time Oman was a vast empire, stretching from east Africa  to Western India and the Omanis were intrepid seamen, ferrying goods from the Middle East as far as Indochina. One of the principal commodities were humans…the slaves from east Africa. This was one of the principal slave  trade  routes from Africa to the Arab world and East Asia.  It was a trade involving human suffering not exceeded in any epoch of history. A full  and gut wrenching  description of the Arab slave trade and its effects  can be found in Oman: a History by Wendell Phillips, (Longmans, 1967).  This aspect of the Arab slave trade has been largely ignored by modern writers, one of the many baleful effects of being “politically correct” ( dishonest, being  a more truthful description).

Since 1750 the Al Bu  Said family has ruled Oman and lived in near isolation, invaded by the Portuguese,( for over a hundred years), the Persians, and their Arab neighbors, the Saudis. When not under foreign rule, the Omanis were at each others throats, leading the most renown historian of the Persian Gulf region, J.B. Kelly, Arabia, the Gulf and the West, to write. As an aside perhaps it should be mentioned that none of the European imperialists could possibly approach the brutality of the Portuguese who routinely slaughtered women, and children,  burning down the towns. The Portuguese era in the Arabian peninsula is a very interesting one. I need to read more about them. Any way the quote by JB Kelly,

“Centuries of feuding have bred in them ( Omanis) a rancorous disposition , and long isolation has made them intensely suspicious of strangers and foreign influences. The contentiousness which is so marked a feature of Omani life is due in large measure to the inveterate religious discord and factional rivalry that exits within Omani society.”

I found that to be true. They were not of the generally welcoming nature one finds in Arab culture. Most Omani individuals seemed very dour and reserved but not as bad as their neighbors the Yemenis. There were some great exceptions but these mostly turned out to be  Indians, or Persians. Most of the shops were managed by Persians and Indians, both Hindu and Muslim but the shop owners were  Omanis, who largely eschew work as something real men don’t do. The oil wealth of the Omanis, not approaching anywhere near that of the Persian Gulf emirates, nevertheless has exacerbated the lack of a work ethic.  However,  what they lack in civic virtues they more than make up in martial qualities. The Dhofaris of the Dhofar  region of western Oman are justly renown for their soldierly qualities. as are the tribesmen of the Green mountain region of north east Oman..

I had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with the Trucial Oman Scouts in 1968, the British officered, Arab defense force of the Emirates ( now UAE). I was with the Squadron that was almost entirely  Dhofaris. They were  excellent tough soldiers and I very much enjoyed my time with them.

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Dhofaris of the Trucial Oman Scouts ( the paleface in the back is a Brit SAS troop)

Oman under the wise and benevolent rule of Sultan Qabuus leaped from the 15th Century several hundred years ahead. The society is still fairly primitive but the progress made under the late Sultan is truly remarkable. He is the example of what could happen in the Arab world if they had decent  leadership…….leaders who actually cared about the people instead of pursuing glory, quest for more power and personal wealth. It is probably the most peaceful nation in the Middle East , boasting of  many years of stability. He had maintained a miraculous degree of neutrality in a region wherein it is almost impossible to do so, amicably working with the Arab nations,  Iran, and Israel. He had not become embroiled in the useless and self defeating Palestinian issue.

Bibi, wife and Qabus

Bibi and wife greeting Sultan Qabuus. Note that Ms. Netanyahu is not wearing hair covering as so many American female  diplomats do  hoping to curry favor.

To be sure the British have played an important part in the stability of the Sultanate, very visible in the government  since  about 1891, when Oman became a British protectorate. In 1958 the Omanis and the British concluded an agreement in which the British assumed control and training of the armed forces of the Omanis. The Commanders of the British advisory in Oman have been some very famous British Officers. Brigadier Pat Waterfield , and especially retired Colonel David Smiley were among them at the time most crucial to the survival of the Sultanate.

Almost all the equipment  of the Omani military is of British origin, including the main British battle tank, the Challenger II and Typhoon fighters. British support has been critical in supporting the Sultan. The reign of Sultan Qabuus’s father, Said bin Taimur, was not always peaceful as the Marxists, Arab nationalists, and  the Saudis of Saudi Arabia have tried to overturn the regime. The first attempt was called  the Jebel Akhdar rebellion which lasted  from 1954 to 1959. One can get the left wing view of the war from wikipedia or the British view from J.B. Kelly and Wendell Phillips. The former depicts it as a war over oil discovered in the region, eagerly sought by the rapacious Sultan  and pushed by the greedy British imperialists. The British saw it as a war to  consolidate the rule of the Musqat  Sultan al Said over the rebellious interior which was involved in tribal warfare fanned by ambitious tribal sheikhs, amply supported by Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia with arms and training.  After some serious losses by the Sultan’s forces, the British began deploying regular units to defeat the rebels. In 1959 the British deployed  major Special Air Services units ( SAS) and  air force assets to decisively defeat the rebels.

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Green Mountain revolt  in the brown area in the north and the Dhofar rebellion in the south shaded area.

The more serious revolt fanned by Arab nationalism and Marxist expansionism was the Dhofari revolt, which dragged on from 1963 to 1976.  In this war, the British, the Shah’s Iran, Jordan, and Egypt assisted the Omanis,  while the Soviet Union, China, South Yemen, and Iraq supported the Dhofari rebels. Again it was the British SAS which made the difference and finally defeated the  Dhofari rebels in 1976.

Oman is  polyglot of different people, including Arabs, Persians,  Baluchis, Indians, East Africans, and a substantial number of British expatriates who are very involved in every aspect of Omani life.  In fact, the Dhofaris have their own own dialect of Arabic which sounds very different to the ear from Arabic, including traces of Amharic, the language of Ethiopia. In the Musandem peninsula, live a tribe called the Shihuh,  who also speak a different brand of Arabic mixed with Farsi. They are famous for a long handled axe which they use in an upper cut fashion to slash the throat of their opponent.

shihuh axe

The Jizr of the Shihuh

I bought one off a Shihuh tribesman who showed up at our campfire when I was with the TOS soldiers. Unfortunately in one of our many moves it disappeared.

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Market place in Musqat

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The blogger hanging out in Musqat on the waterfront

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One of many amazing things about Oman is the amount of water found in many parts of the Sultanate

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water water… not everywhere but Oman is blessed

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a grocer in a small town north east of Musqat. A happy guy. Doesn’t look like an Omani.

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hello! whats your sign?

 

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at the market with a contented grocer. The Omanis have the water in certain areas to grow almost anything,

But the most fantastic part of the visit to Oman was the time spent in Salawah, on the further most  western tip of  Oman. Flying from the city of Musqat to Salawah we flew over hundreds of miles of sun-baked desert with practically no vegetation, and then suddenly we flew into a fog shrouded mist that covers a good part of the region around Salawah and everything below turned green. It reminded  me of the movie Shangri La. This drastic change of scenery is the result of the tip of the Indian Monsoons reaching Salawah and the surrounding mountains to the north keeping the dry hot winds from Arabia from burning up the terrain.

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The interior Omani desert

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Approaching  Salawah the humid but cool mist comes into view

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At Salawah near the Ocean

Many Brits go camping in Oman and if properly equipped it is very enjoyable…… I was told. I chose to camp out in the Salawah Holiday Inn.

 

 

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Salawah is about a 1000 KM from Musqat. One can drive there ..it is about a 10 hour trip.

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near Salawah

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Streams near a park in Salawah

So in conclusion I am wondering why anyone with a choice would prefer stumbling around  cathedrals  and crumbling ruins in “old” Europe,  fighting their way through throngs of other tourists and being cheated by every surly arrogant shop owner the guide brings you to. I prefer being cheated the Arab way…with smiles and proffered coffee and tea. But there is no accounting for tastes!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christianity in the Middle East

Turkey Saint Sophia

St Sophia Cathedral behind me  A symbol of the Sad History of Christianity in the Middle East. Mostly a museum for tourists but Sultan Erdogan  wants to turn it into a Mosque. another one of his actions meant to stick his finger in the Eye of the Wes

THE TRAGEDY OF THE CHRISTIANS of THE MIDDLE EAST

This is from an article I wrote for the Jewish World Review about a year ago with slides from one of my presentations at the John F. Kennedy  Special Warfare Center and School.

Christmas has not been a particularly happy time for Christians of the East for many decades, and much of it is the result of the West’s indifference and their  more recent habit of burying their heads in the send to avoid confronting the Islamist  ( political Islam, the ideology) threat.

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The West, especially Western Europe, has shunned the Christians of the East as their Christianity has been mostly replaced by Hygge (a  lifestyle of Scandinavia emphasizing comfort and contentment)

I was discussing the sad plight of the Christians of the Middle East a few days ago with a Lebanese friend who recited a familiar refrain for the near extinction of the Christian communities of the Middle East. The basic reason he insisted was the Church teaching on “turning the other cheek.” In the face of militant Islam of the Arab expansionist era, the aggressive Muslims overwhelmed passive Christian communities, Then faced with dhimmi status, that of a second class citizen, they gradually assimilated or emigrated to non Muslim lands. As the story goes, the battle of Yarmuk presaged the fate of the Christian Byzantine Empire and   from there on, Islamic success brought more successes with many Christian communities switching sides at critical times.

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The Early Christians had to battle with a number of heresies centered around the nature of Christian…… fully human, dual nature, fully divine. Docetism   held Christ was totally totally ethereal, a phantasm, and Arianism  held that Jesus was wholly Human, the son of God but not consubstantial  ( three persons of the Trinity, i.e., Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)

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The Christians continue to divide and splinter into factions

The ill fated Crusades, ostensibly to regain the holy land from Islam, exemplified the basic deadly dichotomy of Christian East and West . “ Mutinous” soldiers of the fourth crusade (1204) attacked and sacked Constantinople, the Christian capitol of the Byzantine Empire. The lands of the longest lasting empire in history were divided up among the victors and the Byzantine Empire was too weak to withstand the unceasing expansionism of the Ottoman Empire. The destruction of Constantinople by Christians of the West really defines the basic weakness of Christianity of both West and East; they were always divided and at each others throats. The separation of the East and West church in 1054 came about principally over the issue of leadership, but the Western Church began to view the Eastern Church as idolatrous, providing a veneer of religious motivation for the sack of Constantinople. After that the Christian community began to splinter into many communities, at times persecuting one another. An example of this was the Greek Byzantine persecution of the adherents of the Latin Church driven into the mountains of Lebanon, now known as Maronites.

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Pope Urban II Nov 27, 1095 urges Christians to begin the Crusades to regain the holy land overrun by the Islamic Conquest.  “Deus Vult” God wills it.

 

In the modern era I observed up close the disintegration of the Christian communities and their pathetic efforts to survive in a world in which they are, at best, only tolerated.. In every surge of Islamic fervor, such as the brutal Islamic State expulsion of Christians, they have been subject to depredations.

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A Cave near Ephesus  used by Christians to escape the depredations of the Romans.

 

One would think that the Christian communities, driven apart by divisive opinions on the nature of Christ, with complex and often obscure inscrutable theological arguments, would band together to maintain their survival, but they do not and never have. Moreover they tend not to feel any commonality with other non-Christian minorities in the Islamic world, such as the Jewish, Yezidi, and Sabeans and have fought bloody wars with the Druze minority.

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The well at the site of the home of Paul the Apostle in Tarsus Turkey maintained by two Muslim Brothers who show you around for a few Turkish Lira. I drank from it despite my reservations. Saint Paul  kept me well. Praise the Lord!!

To my initial surprise I found that many Eastern Christians had antipathy to Judaism similar to that of the Muslims. This is, at least partially, a result of the often fruitless, but totally understandable, attempts of the Christian clergy to curry favor within their Muslim communities by finding some commonality. An egregious example of this happened in 2010 Baghdad when a number of Chaldean Catholic churches were attacked, and the Church leaders blamed Zionists. This sort of pathetic attempts to avoid blaming Muslim extremists only makes them seem weaker and somewhat ridiculous. It was Ibn Khaldun who wrote that subjugated people under the yoke of tyranny tend to acquire characteristics of “ insincerity and trickery.” So it has become for Christians in the Arab world.

\In Lebanon, the bloody civil war described by the media as a war between Christians and Muslims, but in fact, most Armenian Christians and Greek Orthodox avoided taking part. At the end of the Lebanese civil war the Maronites were reduced to killing each other. This war revealed another cleavage in the Christian community; an ethnic division added to the religious one, as Greek Orthodox consider themselves Arabs while the Egyptian Copts, Armenians, and Maronites do not.

Two other factors have also diminished the Christian communities of the Arab world. One is the proclivity to seek the protection of despots as shelter against Muslim hostility. Thus Christian communities have supported Saddam, Assad, and Mubarak. Of course when they go down, enmity for the Christians increase.

Secondly the Western powers have manipulated the Christians of the Middle East for their own purposes. The British used the Assyrian Christians in Iraq as an auxiliary force to maintain themselves in power, with tragic consequences for the Assyrian people as the British lost control. In the Levant the French sought to maintain a Maronite state to secure their empire after WWI but then greedily included the heavily Muslim Bekaa valley as part of Lebanon, which has had the sad result for the Christians losing their controlling status in Lebanon. Western Protestant missionaries came to the East, not to convert Muslims, but convert Eastern Christians to Protestantism, adding another dimension to their disunity. Today as their numbers continue to dwindle., the   secular West has essentially lost interest in the plight of the Christians in the Near East.

Nothing so illustrates the disunity of the Christians more than the state of the most sacred of Christian sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Six Christian denominations claim residence, but unable to agree on who should maintain the key and open the Church, the Church elders depend on two Muslim families to do so.

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Erudite Report. A New Online Periodical

http://www.erudite.report                     check it out.

For a long time it has been obvious that the American news media has downgraded international news ,except for news flashes on disasters or terror attacks, and then after a day or so they disappear  completely.  There is very little analyses, and very often these days, the slant on foreign news is oriented toward domestic political ideologies. I have written many times that one of the burdens of the Arab world toward a more civilized and democratic state has been the corruption of the Arab press and Media. The media and press are owned by the government or are heavily censored by the government.

John S

John Sjoholm editor of Erudite Report

Now I find to my chagrin that American media and especially the press are not much better, simply a Johnny  one note reflection of a superficial viewpoint – a zeigeist- that has suppressed contrary opinion or managed to submerge it under a deluge of political correct mantras that reflect only the views of the “elite.” The “elite” these days are poorly educated in that they are propagandized and not allowed to think for themselves. Many run  the media or are in the classrooms,  pontificating on issues they know very little about.  Social media are totally regulated by the amorphous “elitist” self censorship. It is a case of massive  “group think.” Those few periodicals and media that tries to  rise above this morass of  1984 Orwellian measures to keep the public content with bread and circuses, or more lately using East German Stasi tactics to put fear into the hearts of the  opposition. (Read  God’s Spies by Elisabeth Braw and the History of the Stasi by Jens Gieseke)  are ridiculed or legaled to death in a Court system that mirrors the zeitgeist.

So a very sharp and well traveled friend of mine, John Sjoholm, a modern  renaissance  man has set up an on line periodical called the Erudite Report ,  with a modest assist from myself, which will dissect and analyze foreign affairs- in depth- with a special focus on political – military affairs and trends. We will combine the historical and cultural factors with the current social environment to attempt to make sense of events that make the news ( or should make the news).

John is a former Swedish Special Forces troop , a former intelligence contractor turned management consultant, having done field research for investment companies. He has a lot of experience as a journalist in the Middle East and Europe and has a knack for surfacing the  meat of complicated issues in a coherent and cogent manner.

You can read who I am in a number of places but basically I am a senior citizen, retired army colonel from the artillery with many years on the ground experience in the Middle East. I love much about the Middle Easterners, but like all peoples they have grievous societal faults which continue to keep them under achievers. I love to read and write, whether read by anyone or not. Somewhat immodestly, I think I have something to add the market place of ideas, and I do not defer to any of the big names in the contest of ideas.

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Writer and Artilleryman

 

so check it out folks, the first report is on Turkey.

find at http://www.erudite.report

 

 

 

 

 

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Cocktail Commando: Another View

 

In 1999 I wrote a very strong plea for the correct use of political-military officers. Military officers who can add their military expertise to complicated  foreign policy issues are a tremendous asset. This is particularly  vital in the mostly low intensity wars we have been fighting for the past few decades.  The article is article below

The Political-Military Army Officer: Soldier Scholar or Cocktail Commando

But as we have seen there  always  a downside  to this when political-military  officers ( pol-mil)  forget the mil and go wild on the pol.   T.E. Lawrence is a good example of this; An asset of extraordinary  value leading the Arab tribes against the Turks but a  difficult burden when his blind support of  Feisal bin Hussein Ali AL -Hashemi, and his Arab tribes and his machinations  to install him king of  Syria.

The LTC Alexander  Vindman, case exemplifies my point.  Vindman,  a fuctionary in the National Security Council,  by virtue of his position,  had considerable power to do damage but not much to do any good.  One can argue the morality issue, but as an officer he can object to what he considers an unlawful order, but in this case he was given no order. As the “impeachment inquiry”  drags on  the only salient points I have seen so far is hard ball politics, and military officers should not become involved. It only diminishes the  image of the military. In my article above I did sound a cautionary note as below.

“The result of too little time in the “real” Army is evidenced by some officers who spend a great deal of their career within political-military upper echelons and often identify with their colleagues; in seeking acceptance, they try to become one of them in outlook, which is of no value to either side of the equation. Over the years I have known some who, having spent years in civilian clothes, tend to absorb the culture of their organization and the reason they are there, i.e., to provide a military voice to the process of making decisions is negated. The last thing needed is another echo.”

I recall an incident from my time in the Pentagon that had I been the Vindman type I could have achieved my 15 minutes of fame. While working in Army Intelligence I  was made  aware  of communications, intercepted  in Paris  between a senior aide to President Carter with aides of the Ayatollah Khomeini which  seemingly  considered a deal to hand over the Shah of Iran, who at that time was in the U.S. for medical treatment. The quid pro quo was continued Iranian relationship with the U.S,

The idea of that was morally repugnant to me and the person who shared it with me, but we were professional officers and we kept our noses out of politics.  Neither of us had much respect for the Carter regime. Had we gone to the media we would have momentary fame ( At least in some of the conservative  Press.)  and then shortly thereafter rightly cast out onto the dust bin of history.

Over the years, since I wrote the article above, there has been an explosion of military folks, especially the big shots, getting their asses entwined in politics and by doing so, in my not so humble opinion, vastly diminishing their  military reputation.  It seems to be an inevitable evolution that happens when military leaders,  primarily of flag officer rank , become quasi celebrities, get lionized in the Press, especially by journalists of a somewhat leftist bent.  They immediately begin to believe their own press releases and transfer their knowledge to politics, anthropology  and a host of other fields.They become very conscious  of their public image and legacy.  Unfortunately this can lead to untoward events. Getting too close to your  biographer can be fatal, particularly if she is winsome lass.

Of course when an officer retires he is free to speak his mind, but it is my considered opinion,  based on a lot of history, that top level flag officers, lieutenant general and above,  even when retired, should keep their opinions confined to military matters. If they really care about the military as much as they claim, they should keep their lips zipped.

This problem is particularly aggravated by relatively lower ranking officers assuming roles far beyond their pay grade, not even in military matters, (which they should at times)  but not in politics in which they are totally out of their element. But as a member of the upper level bureaucracy,  with bosses who are indifferent, or weak ,or scared of  reining in subordinates, these pumped up military officers ( they all seem to take on rather pompous attitudes ) can do a great deal of harm.  (I think of Oliver North in this respect). Mostly, however they erode the reputation of the military.  Having spent all these years in the Middle East I have seen first hand what happens to countries where the military becomes enmeshed  in ideologies, politics, and commerce. The country is weakened  and the military is destroyed.

No doubt these officers, in their minds,  believe they are “saving the country”  ( as apparently one recently did) or with their new found Middle Eastern expertise, saving the country from an  impending war with Iran, or even saving the president from himself, or most grievously, one four star  who recently adjudged  himself able to look into the hearts of a man and see evil.  Like supreme court judges who evolve, these senior intellectualized military leaders ascend from the knuckle dragging status they are usually initially assigned  by the “informed Press”  to find a warm embrace within academia  and the liberal press. These officers find the heady atmosphere intoxicating and for a short time bask in the glow. Alas and alack they often find the glow wears off rather quickly and they must resort to finding a job in industry again. In the process  many of us who do not agree with the exalted visions they claim for themselves,  write them off as just another idol with feet of clay.  No great problem there. However,  much more  sadly, the military as an institution has been tarnished and its pristine image- among those who care for it the most-  has been irretrievably harmed.

I usually go back into Middle Eastern history  for lessons unlearned and one popped right out of an older book I am reading…Arabic Political Memoirs and other Studies by Elie Kedourie. Published by Cass in 1974. One particular short chapter caught my eye, called “Wavell and Iraq.”

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  Lord Wavell  a distinguished   Soldier Scholar

Field Marshall Lord  Percival Wavell, commander of all Middle East  forces, including those  in Iraq in 1941, was an extraordinarily gifted military commander. In fact General Rommel opined that he ” showed a touch of genius,”.  He has served in the second Boer war,  and was wounded in WWI.  Wavell had spent a good part of his life in the Middle East,  including time spent with General Allenby ‘s force in Palestine and Syria. He was popular with his troops and officers and  a man of congenial disposition.   He was as gallant an officer as the British could field and was known as a “Soldier-scholar.” Unfortunately Churchill wrongly assumed  he was not quite the right stuff and replaced him with  Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck.

Wavell was appointed commander-in-Chief. Middle East in 1939 and held that position for two years. Prior to that time as commander of the British troops in Palestine he showed his cautious inclinations and his unfortunate plunge into the murky socio-political world of the Arab world. He refused to send his troops into a mosque to arrest the Hajj Husseini , Grand Mufti Of Jerusalem, for fear it would inflame the Arab world. The Grand Mufti, later safe  in Berlin, would give no end of grief to the British, both during the war and post WWII.  As an analyst on the Nazi- Arab connections in World War II, Jeffrey Herf wrote, ” …..the Mufti played a central role in the cultural fusion of European with Islamic traditions of Jew – hatred.” His vitriolic broadcasts against the Jews and British  were a constant problem for the British trying to win “Arab hearts and minds.”

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Haj Husseini with Hitler who was widely admired throughout the Arab word

Wavell also refused to proclaim martial law in Palestine as he saw it as simply provoking more violence.  He, like the vast majority of the British academics, opposed Zionism and were basically pro-Arab. He refused Churchill’s request to arm the Jewish settlers in Palestine as it would  unduly provoke  the Arabs.

Alie Kedourie wrote, “There has grown a whole literature in English about British policy in in the Middle East  since the world War, which is irredeemably mediocre,  the mediocrity of which resides primarily in the fact that it attributes to the conflict between Zionists and Arabs as exorbitant importance in explaining the tangled and tortuous  relations between Arab States in this period, as well as every reverse to the British position in the Middle East  and its ultimate and total ruin.”

This mind set has in no way diminished, as it permeates the State Department, and has recently found a secure home in mainstream journalism. One need only go back to the 9/11 report and the academic interpretation of it to find that  support of Israel was claimed as a major reason for the attack and as one of the reasons for Muslim animosity  toward the Americans.    American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have become famous ( notorious?) spouting these ideas. I’m sorry to say that Mearsheimer is a West Point graduate, but happy to say he served in the Air force, not the Army,  and only for the required 5 Years.

As I have written before, a good part of this ideological mind set was the absorption of the Toynbean philosophy as embedded in the British political and military circles of the era. Kedourie termed it the “Chatham House version,” the mindset inculcated in the ruling elite, scholarly, and military circles of Britain, especially the idea of a monolithic Arab world beset with problems engendered by Western colonialism.  It wasn’t that Wavell was pro-Arab. That was not the problem.  As Churchill wrote, Most British generals were anti Zionist . The problem was that he viewed the Arabs as a unitary, rigid people of narrow views.  According to one  British writer, a former  American  commander  of CENTCOM, who was one of the smartest generals I ever listened to  (extremely articulate  and charismatic) was fixated on the idea of “Arab honor,” and  that our use of the term “Shock and awe” violated their sense of honor in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. These superficial ideas of the Arab culture frequently drives our policies in the Middle East.

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King Feisal returning to Iraq  after fleeing from the Iraqi Nazi takeover. He was imposed on the Iraqis and during his reign was never accepted by the Iraqis. However after the calamities of modern rulers he is remembered  more kindly.

As the “golden  Square” of pro-Nazi Iraqi army officers seized power in Baghdad, Wavell tenaciously tried to forestall British intervention in Iraq.  Again,  he and the British ambassador  tried to assure Churchill that all was well and there was no need to intervene.  Wavell wanted to negotiate with the coup leader General  Rashid Ali al Kailani,  and was assured by Rashid that Iraq would uphold all obligations to the British…all the while he was permitting German fighter aircraft to land in Baghdad.  Wavell  greatly over-estimated the fighting power of the Iraqi army,  assuming that the advance of the British  would unite the Iraqis against his small force,  telling the War Office that the British could advance no further than Basra. Again, the old bugaboo of widespread Arab rebellion  was the main fear of Wavell,  ,beseeching  Churchill to avoid “major conflict with the Arabs.” Nevertheless, Churchill, who correctly observed that the only thing that mattered was strength and power,  and who the Arabs perceived as the winner.  Churchill had to continually urge Wavell to push on  from Basra,  as Wavell sent a stream of messages back reminding the Imperial staff of the disastrous Mesopotamian campaign in WWI.

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British force crossing the desert to get to Iraq were attacked by German aircraft flying from Mosul or Baghdad.

Under constant pressure from Churchill, a small force called the “Habforce” was formed  from scratch British units in Iraq and pushed the Iraqi army back as they mostly fled from a decisive encounter. There was very little enthusiasm among  the Iraqi population to support the Iraqi army, and many Shi’a  and Kurds supported the British. Ultimately, The British deployed two Indian divisions to Iraq and the Rashid Ali  al Kailani’s regime collapsed almost immediately. There was no uprising in the Arab world. Haj Husseini  made his way to Berlin where he was warmly welcomed, later serving as the Mufti for the Waffen SS 13th Mountain Division of Muslim Croats, and the Free Arabian Legion, Neither was of much fighting ability except to  terrorize Serb and Jews but they did have considerable propaganda value.

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Assyrian Iraqi troops securing bridge to Falluja. The Assyrians were serving the British Colonial regime and paid for it in blood after the Brits departed

 

There was one final, and for many, fatal error in  Wavel’s judgement. He believed that British troops entering Baghdad  would arouse the Arab population to great heights of violence, and to maintain the fiction that the Iraqis were self governing, he kept the  British troops standing for two days behind the gates of Baghdad while mobs of thugs, including police and some Iraqi military, surged through the city, raping, killing, and looting, mostly Jews  and Jewish businesses, a violent episode  termed a Farhud. 

At the time Wavell was fighting five different campaigns with a greatly under strength forces but while understanding his problems it seems even more problematic why he spent so much time interfering in a country Iraq ? He was under tremendous pressure from Churchill and the  Commander in Chief, India, Field Marshal Auchinleck, Wavells’ immediate boss. There is much to sympathize with in his defense.  Particularly as he was occupied fighting campaigns in 5 different regions. And he had particular animus about Iraq. As he wrote, ” I always disliked Iraq- the country, the people, and the military commitment…..” as Field Marshal Auckinleck believed, Wavell’s procrastination  was not based on military considerations but rather political ones.

I remember in my military era, politics was strictly avoided. I did not even vote till I was a Lt.  Col.  and most officers of my era were totally outside the political circuses.. I  don’t think our republic, or us officers, suffered because of it. Today it seems that high ranking officers take on all sorts of political hues and in the process make asses of themselves.  They seem to glory in the idea that somehow in their ascent to the top they have attended enough academic conferences, read enough  books on the Pentagon reading list to qualify as Middle East experts, etc. The problem is they learn just enough to become dangerous.

Today I find too many “celebrity” generals and admirals have absorbed an academic  viewpoint that the Arabs are too frivolous and  fickle to bother with, except for diplomatic niceties, and that we should,  somehow, mend fences with the Iranians and accept the fact that they are the emerging power in the Middle East. With enough mea culpas for assisting in dumping Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh ( not a nice guy BTW) and abject apologies for supporting the Shah, perhaps we  could  obtain a few kind words from President Hassan Rouhani  or  Prophet Mohammed’s Vicar on Earth, the Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei.  Seriously?

Those who understand the way despots and religious fanatics ( sincere or frauds)  operate in the Middle East know that the Iranians  will not cease aggressive Persian imperialism until stopped dead on the battlefield. That battle fields will be in the capitols of the West as well as the towns and deserts of the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

The action and feisal photos were taken from an excellent little book, Iraq1941: the Battles for Basra, Habbaniya, Fallujah and Baghdad. Published by Osprey Press. The photo of Haj Husseini and Hitler  is from the book Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

avoiding a war with Iran or ininMiddle Eastern affaairs

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