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Language Familiarity, Cultural Awareness Critical to Iraq Fight

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2006 – Language training and awareness of Iraqi and Arab culture are absolutely necessary for servicemembers deploying to Iraq, the outgoing commander of Multinational Corps Iraq said in Baghdad yesterday.

Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who gives up command tomorrow, told Baghdad-based journalists that a poll conducted among 1st Cavalry Division soldiers following their 2004 deployment to Iraq pointed out how important they believed language skills to be.

The idea is not to have every soldier fluent in Arabic, but rather to have an understanding of some common phrases they need to use on a daily basis, he said. Troops need to have that knowledge when they arrive, and not three months later after having to learn them via “the school of hard knocks,” the general said.

He said he was surprised the soldiers felt the cultural awareness piece was so important. Chiarelli commanded the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad in 2004. He said he pushed such training before the division’s deployment in 2004 because he felt his soldiers needed to understand that the culture in Iraq is totally different from that of Americans. “And you'd better understand that,” he said. “It makes all the difference in the world.”

The need for this type of training highlights the complicated nature of the conflict in Iraq. Cultural sensitivity helps prevent soldiers from creating problems for themselves through ignorance, and this improves force protection, Chiarelli said. “It means that coalition soldiers are not fired at, shot at, or have (improvised explosive devices) go off on them when they can go into an area, or they have less,” he said. “They can go into an area and are viewed by the people as being somebody that people want to see in their neighborhood, because they acquit themselves the way they're supposed to in this culture.”

The general said he believes the training U.S. servicemembers receive is superb, but that the fight they enter is tough and unlike anything the U.S. military has encountered before. The enemy doesn’t attack with formations. Ten insurgents attacking is a large number. Instead, it is usually two or three insurgents planting improvised explosive devices, rigging up car bombs or sniping at coalition and Iraqi forces, he said.

The days of a pitched battle in Iraq are over, Chiarelli said, adding that there is no traditional “front line.”

“I still believe that that's the way many Americans think this fight is,” he said. “And I find it just absolutely frustrating. I don't even necessarily believe the Vietnam comparisons are right.”

In Vietnam, there was a guerilla enemy, the Viet Cong, but there were also battles with large formations of North Vietnamese army soldiers. “We don't see that out here,” he said. “We see Baghdad, a city of anywhere from 5.5 to 7.5 million people … where no one's wearing a uniform. (It’s) very, very difficult to pick out who's for you and who's against you. And it's an extremely difficult fight.”

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Biographies:
Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, USA

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