Iraqi Civil Defense Corps Grows in Numbers and Role
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2003 Sgt. Amin Aanan, who served more than 10 years in Saddam Hussein's army, calls it a way to help reverse the horrendous damages of the old regime while serving the city and country he loves. Capt. Musab Joseph was attracted by the opportunity to protect his family while launching what most of his friends and neighbors consider a prestigious career.
Both men told Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz during his visit to Tikrit, Iraq, Oct. 25 that they're proud to be members of the new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, serving with 60 other Iraqis in Task Force 1-22 Infantry Tikrit.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz discusses progress and needs of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps with U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Russell, battalion commander for Task Force 1-22 Infantry in Tikrit, Iraq, Oct. 25. Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Lt. Col. Steve Russell from the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division
, battalion commander for the unit, said plans call for increasing Task Force 1-22's strength to as many as 200 soldiers within the next three months.
Nationwide, Iraq's Civil Defense Corps stands at about 4,700 trained soldiers. Wolfowitz told the House Armed Services Committee in late September that plans call for expanding the force to 15,000 by January.
The deputy secretary called this standing up of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps "a wonderful success story" that represents a major step toward Iraq's ability to assume full responsibility for its own security. "These are young Iraqis stepping forward to fight for their country alongside our people," he said.
Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers are Iraqi citizens who remain in their communities and are integrated into the coalition military units.
U.S. Army Capt. Jason Deel explained that Task Force 1-22's mission is to gather intelligence, run combat patrols in the city, establish fixed-site security positions, and conduct raids and cordon search operations alongside 4th Infantry Division soldiers.
The support they provide is "very substantial," Wolfowitz said -- particularly in areas like Saddam's hometown of Tikrit. Joe Fillmore, a U.S. contractor who serves as a translator for the task force, told Wolfowitz during his visit that "99 percent of the town has resigned itself to the future, some willingly, some not, but it's the other 1 percent we need to focus on."
In focusing on that threat, Wolfowitz told reporters Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers "can do things we can't.
"They can communicate with people with the speed that our people can't do working through translators. They can 'read' the local situation (and) the population in ways we can't," he said. "Iraqis come forward to them with information much more readily than they do with us."
Deel said the 4th Infantry Division's program to recruit and train new Task Force 1-22 soldiers "has become a model for Iraq, promoting increased dialog with government, police, sheiks, imams and locals."
Task Force 1-22's recruits, he explained, are referred by local sheiks who attest to their loyalty. "It becomes an honor issue for them," Deel said, "and we need men who are trustworthy."
Russell said there's no shortage of recruits. For the current training class, the 4th Infantry Division had hoped to attract 60 trainees, he said. Seventy-five volunteered, about one-third of them from Tikrit and the rest from the surrounding farm area.
"We need to keep working to get word out to the sheiks and tribal leaders about what the ICDC is all about," Russell said. "We need to be sure they all understand that this is for the good of Tikrit."
New recruits receive three weeks of intensive combat training. They first learn basic commands in English, the rules of engagement, and how to set up a control point. From there, they practice troop-leading procedures, crowd and riot control, and squad movements. During the final training week, trainees qualify on their AK-47 rifles.
"We put our hearts and souls into training them," Deel told Wolfowitz. "After all, we're the ones who go out on the streets with them."
Aanan said the training -- as well as the task force's mission -- is far more intensive than anything he experienced in Saddam's army. "It's more physical, and there are different and more challenging missions," he said.
Joseph said he felt "very proud" when he and his fellow trainees completed the training, to become the first Iraqi Civil Defense Corps graduates in Tikrit.
"They feel really good about it," said Russell of new graduates, who become full-fledged members of Task Force 1-22. "It's not something that's been just handed to them. They have truly earned it."
But despite the successes of the program, Deel told Wolfowitz the task force has weapons shortages and needs rain gear, cold-weather gear and vehicles.
And although on the surface it may seem inconsequential, Deel said the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps needs new uniforms. Trainees wear uniforms of the old Iraqi army -- something they hate and are anxious to disassociate themselves from, he told Wolfowitz.
The deputy secretary acknowledged that providing for some of these shortages may not be possible under current U.S. law. He vowed to push to change laws that stand in the way of properly training and equipping the Iraqi Civil Defense Force or other indigenous forces that operate in the United States' best interest and help relieve the burden on U.S. troops.
"We're seeing that there are plenty of Iraqis -- many, many more -- who are willing to step up to defend their country," he said. "And we need to help them get on with that."
Joseph said he's committed to helping make the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps a success, for the good of his family, his hometown and his country as a whole. "This job is to protect my family," he said. "American forces can't stay here forever. We need to look out for our own security."