NATO Personnel Shaping Iraqi Military Staff
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 30, 2006 NATO servicemembers are working with Iraqis here to train the new Iraqi army.
Rustamiyah is the home of the Iraqi Military Academy and the Iraqi Joint Service College. It is also the temporary home of 80 NATO servicemembers who are helping the Iraqi army become a modern, effective force.
Italian air force Brig. Gen. Agostino Mazzei leads the NATO effort here, and Italy is the lead nation in the effort. During a recent interview, the general said the NATO and Iraqi personnel went through a lot in setting up the course, but it was worth it. The first class of the Iraqi Joint Staff College graduated earlier this month.
The Iraqi Service College is divided into two parts: a junior level for senior captains, majors and lieutenant colonels, and a senior level, for lieutenant colonels, colonels and brigadier generals. The Joint Staff College has been based here since it was initially set up in 1925. The coalition rebuilt the infrastructure and re-established the course in 2005.
The junior course is eight months long and is comparable to the Command and General Staff College in the U.S. military. The senior course is nine months long and is roughly the equivalent of the U.S. service war colleges.
The college is collocated with the Iraqi Military Academy. While NATO tutors work at the academy, the institution itself is under coalition control. The academy may transfer to NATO in July, officials said.
When the NATO personnel arrived there was very little in terms of supplies or equipment. "There was no communications, no computers, no desks, no connection with Internet, which is important to an education experience," Mazzei said. "Now we have very good organization, and accommodations are good, too. The problem is security. We have no opportunity to move freely to the International Zone."
It was a long, tough road to the first graduating class, Mazzei said. "In July 2005, we started to prepare the curriculum," he said. "At the same time, the Iraqis selected 24 of their best officers, and NATO organized the train-the-trainer course just to prepare the teachers to tutor the students. The course was 11 weeks long."
This entailed translating the material from English into Arabic, and then mentors worked with the Iraqi officers to deliver the lectures. Together Iraqis and NATO servicemembers worked to deliver the material. "We tried it first without the students," the general said. "After the course started, we had two slides -- in English and Arabic. The teacher presented it in Arabic, but the mentor stayed in the room and through a translator would follow in English. If a student asked a question and the teacher was not able to answer, the mentor could do so."
Mazzei said the teams developed more than 20,000 separate slides for the presentations. The first class was a pilot class, and the instructors had to give a two-and-a-half month course in English and computer skills. The Iraqis had missed the computer revolution due to sanctions in the 1990s. But, he said, the officers jumped into the program.
Both the junior and senior levels stress leadership, international law, peacekeeping operations, and workings of a military in a democracy. Both courses end the academic year working together on a command post exercise.
Mazzei said his relationship with his Iraqi counterpart, Brig. Gen. Zayid, is excellent. Mazzei and his staff work with Zayid and his staff to improve the quality of instruction and also to learn from each other, Mazzei said. "They rely very much on our expertise because in their experience they have just Russian doctrine," Mazzei said. "So we translate a lot of NATO doctrine books, American books and United Kingdom books and provide them all."
Mazzei said he was impressed by the bravery the Iraqi personnel show in just coming to the course. "The terrorists would kill them if they knew they were here," he said. "Yet they continue to come."
Individuals from all Iraqi ethnic groups attend the Joint Staff College. "Kurdish, Shiia, Sunni they are all here. They are all mixed together, and they all get along," Mazzei said.
In September a new year begins. The lessons learned in the pilot course will improve the course and tailor it to the needs of the Iraqis. "I don't now if democracy will be here tomorrow or in 10 years," Mazzei said. "But I know we helped put in the foundation stones."