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Future Iraqi Defense Leaders Train in Washington

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2004 – Iraqis training for leadership positions within the new Iraqi Ministry of Defense told reporters here today they look forward to building a military that transcends ethnic and political differences to protect Iraq's people and its constitution.

About 25 Iraqi civilian and military officials are in Washington attending a three-week workshop to help prepare them for yet-to-be-determined positions within the new defense ministry.

The class, the second of three scheduled, just wrapped up two weeks of training at the National Defense University.

The training focuses on skills critical to mid- and senior-level leaders, according to Gerald B. Thompson, who directs the university's Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. This involves how to develop a national security strategy, allocate defense resources, conduct civil-military relations and operate a military in a democratic society.

A third week of training, presented by the U.S. Institute of Peace, focuses on problem-solving and conflict-management issues, according to George Ward, director of the institute's professional training program.

Iraqis attending the workshop said it is giving them valuable tools that will help them operate in a ministry run by both career civil servants and military officers, rather than political appointees. Thompson said the Iraqi Ministry of Defense will be organized much like its British counterpart.

The students represent a mix of former military officers who served under Saddam Hussein but did not join his Baath Party and civilians with specialties in fields ranging from engineering to statistics.

One, a chemical engineer who retired from Saddam's army in 1984 for political reasons, said he looks forward to being a part of an institution with the "sacred mission" of protecting the constitution and the security of Iraq.

He said the ministry's major objective will be to form a small but highly adaptable army that preserves Iraq's borders without threatening its neighbors.

And unlike Saddam's army, which threatened both Iraq's neighbors as well as its own people, the new Ministry of Defense will transcend political, ethnic and factional differences that divided Iraq under the former dictator.

"We have already agreed that the army is out of the political game," said a class member, a former general in the Iraqi army. "Anyone who wants to join the army must rid himself of political affiliations."

A major mission of the new Ministry of Defense, said a former brigadier general in Saddam's army who was forced to leave in 1997 for failure to join the Baath Party, will be "to rebuild trust and bridges of confidence between the new Iraqi Army and the people."

"Before, Iraq had a big army, but it wasn't the people's army, and it wasn't a constitutional army," said an electronic engineer attending the workshop. "What we look forward to is building a new army with a high level of training that takes part in protecting democracy and the constitution."

The students all expressed appreciation for the United States' leadership in helping topple Saddam Hussein and the sacrifices made by U.S. and coalition forces killed in Iraq.

"Freedom has a price," said one class member. "Both American and Iraqi blood are dear to us."

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National Defense University
U.S. Institute of Peace

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