From a former infantry officer (but who did not serve in Iraq):
Kathryn, Bremer’s quote is a little disingenuous.
The original plan was to retain selected portions of the Iraqi Army in existence. You may remember hearing open source chatter about us being in contact with high ranking Iraqi officials prior to the campaign kick-off. The decision to not recall the Iraqi Army was made at the last minute and that decision contradicted the original plan and some very explicit agreements we had made with now “former” Iraqi generals. There are a number of folks in the Army who think that was the wrong decision and led to a large part of the Sunni insurgency. See Michael Gordon’s article in the NY Times on the decision.
In any event, although Bremer takes responsibility for making the decision the fact that it was announced immediately after his arrival while the forces on the ground were still trying to reconstitute the Army suggests that the decision had been made before he arrived. I cannot imagine a decision of that magnitude was made on his own authority.
I think Bremer is correct in saying the Shia and Kurds were not going to tolerate a reconstituted Sunni dominated Army. Once that decision was made we tried to quickly reconstitute a “de-Baathized” Army without having the infrastructure and plans in place for the serious effort of building an Army from scratch. This is what caused the FUBAR/SNAFU situation with Iraqi troops running away at the first sign of trouble, joining in with the militia, with this and that former general being the man of the hour, until that didn’t work either. Things finally started to get better when we accepted we would have to rebuild the Army from the ground up and put the structure in place to do that.
The plan was always to hand over territory to the Iraqis (and before that, other coalition members) and get our guys, mostly, out. In practice things didn’t work out that way…which is why Clausewitz says everything in war is simple, but even simple things are difficult.
BTW. The next time someone glibly says “We can take some kid off a tractor in Iowa and another one off the block in Baltimore and turn them into infantrymen in 16 weeks. Why is it taking 2 years to train the Iraqi’s?” Please slap them for me. First of all the 16 weeks number is just for basic training/bootcamp. Most service members then go to some specialist training. For some specialties this might last an additional year. Even infantrymen, artillerymen and tankers usually get another 10 weeks or so depending on service, branch, specialty etc. And that is just the privates.
I actually was in an Army battalion that we rebuilt from the ground up. To make a long story short…it took over a year until we were considered “Combat Ready” under the existing readiness rating system. This meant that our entire division would have been considered ‘not combat ready” for that time. Our job was much easier than training the new Iraqi units. We had an experienced, trained and COHESIVE (very important) cadre of officers, non-commissioned officers (sergeants and corporals) and a functioning battalion staff and logistical and administrative organization. We all spoke the same language as our trainers. We didn’t have any tribal or religious divisions. All we had to do is pick up and train our new soldiers. From the time our first soldier stepped onto FT. Benning for One Station Unit Training (basic and advanced training combined) until our battalion was rated combat ready was about two years…and that was for one battalion (500 men for our unit).