THE IRAQI ARMY SUPPLY SYSTEM |
September 19, 2008
This is perhaps the largest remaining challenge keeping US forces in Iraq. The Enemy is defeated. The Iraqi Army is strong and willing to fight. The population supports their government against the insurgents. But the IA supply system is a source of frustration for all who encounter it.
First, the policy of the US army is not to make the Iraqis change their supply system so that it looks and acts like ours. They have nowhere near a strong enough economy to feed such a behemoth. Our goal is simply to make their system work for them by making them do their jobs.
For them, it does not matter how much they need something, or how well they justify it, they will not get it.
There are many reasons for this perception:
1. It is true. For years, they have been taught by their supply systems to not ask for anything because it is simply futile to do so.
2. Several years ago, the warehouses were empty. There simply wasn't anything to give. That has changed. Yet, IA units still don't bother to ask for their supplies from the IA supply system.
3. Iraqi supply sergeants and officers get rated on how well they stock their supplies. That means how full their shelves are and how neatly everything is stacked. And if they issue anything out, the shelf will have a bare spot until something new comes in. That will make them look bad. So they issue nothing out.
4. A long history of institutionalized corruption. Corruption is so widespread and historically ingrained, that it is hard to trust anyone. Supply officers don't want to issue anything out because they fear it will just get stolen and sold on the black market. They would rather have units not get what they need than be seen as complicit with the theft of government-owned materials. Most commanders are very attuned to the corruption problem and keep detailed records of the things they purchase for their units and what happened to them. This also fosters a hoarding mentality at each level of command.
I have been told, and I believe, that the IA warehouses are full of all the things they need to supply their army. But they simply won't ship it out to the units where it is needed.
There are several work-arounds that the IA uses to get what it needs:
1. Cash. Cash is king. If you have enough cash, you don't need a good supply system backing you up. Almost everything they need, my unit buys from the local markets. They get cash from the Ministry of Defense and from local governments, who have a vested interest in keeping the local army units functional.
2. The American Army supply system. The IA have become experts in getting stuff from the Americans. They know which unit commanders will give them what they need and they will keep asking until they get it. Many American commanders understand that the stronger the IA is, the sooner we can all go home. Some commanders interpret that as a mandate to give them whatever they want. Others see that as a mandate to “help them stand on their own feet." The best course is, as usual, somewhere in the middle.
My job includes convincing the IA to give their supply system another chance. Like Charlie Brown, I keep telling them it will work this time for sure. In the meantime, I help them get the things they really need to keep going and to stay in the fight. A tough balance. My success at the end of this year will rest on my IA unit's ability to use their supply system to sustain their operations.
Fighting the insurgents was much simpler.