August 28, 2006

Tough streets await Iraq’s NATO-trained cadets

By Ibon Villelabeitia

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The proud mothers tossed candies, the
passing-out band played martial music and the officer cadets
swore allegiance to the national flag.

But commanders at the NATO-supervised military academy in
Baghdad, modeled on Britain's Sandhurst, said nothing can
prepare the newly graduated soldiers for Iraq's mean streets.

"No military doctrine in the world says you are going to
face terrorists in your neighborhoods, streets and houses,"
said Brigadier Imad Mohammed, director of Baghdad's Rustamiya
military academy.

"Our cadets are going to face a situation that cannot be
expressed in military language. They will have to learn it in
their daily life. I cannot bluff and say they are completely
trained," he said.

Outside the academy's walls, two dozen Iraqi soldiers were
killed on Monday in fierce street fighting with Shi'ite
militiamen in the city of Diwaniya in some of the bloodiest
clashes yet among rival factions in Shi'ite southern Iraq.

Supervised by 100 NATO trainers from more than 10
countries, a group of 140 officers graduated on Monday to join
Iraq's new army in the fight against rebels and sectarian
bloodshed that has raised fears of a civil war and the breakup
of the country.

Boosting Iraq's army, disbanded after U.S. troops toppled
Saddam Hussein, is key to allowing the withdrawal of about
135,000 U.S. troops.

But a surge in sectarian violence since the February
bombing of a Shi'ite shrine has complicated a pullout

Iraq's army stands at 130,000 troops in 10 divisions. Iraqi
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is to assume formal operational
control of Iraq's armed forces by next month, U.S. military
spokesman Major General William Caldwell said on Monday.


Colonel Paul Brook, chief of staff of NATO's training
mission in Iraq, said 600 officers have graduated so far from
the academy, based on Sandhurst's leadership-building methods.

"Under Saddam and his friends there was no professional
development of leadership understood as a responsibility and
not a privilege so there is a lot of calibrating to do," Brook

The cadets, Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds from across Iraq,
also receive training on counter-insurgency and urban warfare
operations during the one-year course.

The mood at the passing-out ceremony was jubilant -- women
ululated and cadets strutted in their new uniforms as their
parents took pictures.

But commanders warned the fight will be tough.

"Insurgents are not an easy target. They hide underground
and mix with the people. Our officers will have to learn to
work closely with the population," General Naseer al-Aabadi,
deputy commander of Iraq's army said after the ceremony.

With sectarian violence deepening, the loyalties of Iraq's
security forces have been questioned. Sunnis accuse Shi'ite
militias of running death squads that have infiltrated the
police, a charge they deny.

In Sunni rebel strongholds, Sunni troops have deserted
ahead of combat. On Monday, the U.S. military confirmed reports
that about 100 Shi'ite soldiers based in Basra refused last
week to move to Baghdad to boost a U.S. and Iraqi security
sweep there.

But the cadets said they will fight for Iraq's unity.

"I am an Iraqi and I am serving the army of Iraq. I don't
care about sectarian and ethnic affiliation," said 23-year-old
Ali al-Jubari, a Sunni Arab from the northern city of Mosul.

"I will do what my commander tells me to do."