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Intel Official: Iraqi Military not Eager to Engage U.S. Troops

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 2002 – The Iraqi military is demoralized and not eager to engage American troops, according to U.S. intelligence assessments.

"The Iraqis, across the board, have a serious morale problem. They are not eager to engage U.S.-led coalition forces in combat," a U.S. intelligence official said this week.

The official is an expert on Iraqi military capabilities and spoke to reporters on the condition he not be identified by name. He said the Iraqi forces are generally not confident in their abilities.

"The Gulf War defeat is an advantage we have now that we didn't have in 1991," he said. "We have history on record. We showed them what we can do to them, and they remember that."

Much of the problems facing the Iraqi military stem from poor training. Years of U.N.-imposed sanctions have had an effect. "Equipment shortages and manpower shortages, we believe, affect the quality and quantity of their training," the official said.

Even when they do train, training methods are ineffective by Western standards. They don't often conduct live-fire exercises, and training lacks realism, complexity and intensity, he explained.

The Iraqi military is considerably smaller than the force that opposed coalition troops in the Gulf War. The Iraqi army had 70 divisions in 1991, but only 23 today. Its elite Republican Guard is half the 12 divisions it was in 1991.

"Not only do they have fewer divisions, but the divisions tend to be more hollow than they were in 1991, because they lost a lot of equipment in 1991," the official said. Trucks, in particular, are in critically short supply, making it difficult for Iraqi forces to move equipment, ammunition and personnel.

None of this means conflict with Iraq wouldn't be dangerous, however. The Republican Guard may be experiencing manpower shortages, but they're still the "best-trained, best-equipped, and most-experienced forces in Iraq," the official said.

Air forces have been in seeming disarray for years. Throughout the 1990s, several air force officers were implicated in alleged coup attempts and executed, causing morale in the air force to plummet, the official said.

U.S. officials estimate Iraq has about 300 combat aircraft, less than half 1991 levels, and only about 80 percent are in good enough shape to fly. Pilots, however, rarely if ever get training.

The official estimated the average Iraqi pilot gets tens of hours of flying time each year. American military pilots, in contrast, are required to have hundreds of hours each year. Also, Iraqi pilots generally don't train at night or in poor weather.

"The air force is in very sad shape, even compared to '91, when they didn't perform very well," the official said. He noted, however, there have been indications that Iraq is seeking to improve its air forces. U.S. intelligence sources have counted hundreds of training sorties by Iraqi MiG-29s fighters so far this year, compared to only "a handful" in each of the past several years.

The official said this indicated Iraq has been more successful in smuggling spare parts into the country.

Iraqi air defenders are somewhat more capable than their airborne counterparts. "Air defenders took a lot of losses in the Gulf War," the official said. "But they've pretty much done a good job of maintaining their order of battle despite the no-fly zone strikes, because they have a lot of spare parts and repair capability in Baghdad."

The official said most of the Iraqi air defense capability is concentrated around Baghdad and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. Much of the air defense equipment is mobile as well.

Iraqi air defenders are particularly adept at low-level protection of fixed sites, he said, noting they can blanket an area with anti- aircraft fire.

"They don't necessarily have the morale or motivation (to hit individual aircraft)," he said. "But they can throw a lot of 'golden BBs' up in the air."

Across the spectrum of Iraqi military forces, the official said the officer corps is not pro-Saddam. He doesn't trust them, and they don't trust him.

"(Hussein has) oppressed the military, as he has all other segments of society," the official explained. Opposing forces would do well to remember, however, that the officer corps is a professional group of soldiers, he added.

"We have to respect that the Iraqi military has a core of professional officers," he said, noting some officers might fight out of a sense of personal honor. "They have traditions that they're proud of."

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