Sandhurst in Baghdad
Sandhurst used a model for new Iraqi army cadets [from Mehdi LEBOUACHERA (AFP) in L'Orient-Le Jour.]
In January the Iraqi military academy began training young officers based on instruction at the prestigeous British military academy at Sandhurst. This is "back to the source" after a Soviet-style interval which lasted 30 years.
Entry into the academy, located in Al Rustamiyah 10 km south of Baghdad and which will eventually welcome 900 cadets, is reserved to young recruits in excellent physical condition and in possession of a university diploma. It is here where NATO will open its own military academy this autumn. (The project had been delayed due to lack of funds).
In the suffocating heat, 20 recruits, addressed by the number on their uniforms, are running a dusty obstacle course and clearing beams and concrete walls. Even if discipline is not strict, recruits say they have come to serve their country and to measure up to the test. Lance Mohammed, 25, his face dripping with sweat, says he doesn't fear insurgent threats or attacks. This young man tried to enlist under Saddam Hussein but was rejected because his mother was Kurdish. But inshallah, in the new Iraqi army there will be no difference between Arabs and Kurds. British Colonel Neil Hutton, in charge of the training program, says religious or ethnic criteria will not be used to determine eligibility.
Further away, on a huge blacktopped surface, you hear the shouts of 90 cadets in impeccable uniforms learning to march in cadence under the severe gaze of Her Majesty's Instructor. The training we give here is the same as at Sandhurst, emphasized Capt. John Langton. We teach them the values of the British Army: courage, loyalty, discipline, respect for others, personal commitment and integrity.
Iraqi and British military ties go way back. The academy, where fading photos of former cadets who achieved high rank still hang on the walls, was created by the British in 1924 when they administered a mandate over the country.
The instruction methods used at Sandhurst, where many an Arab leader has trained, were in use in Iraq until 1970 when the Ba'ath regime turned towards the Soviet Union for military assistance. Colonel Hutton says the return was inspired not only by the historical ties between the two countries but because the period of instruction is 12 months. Officers can be rapidly turned out to fight the insurgents.
The goal of instruction is to develop their ability of command so that they will become professional soldiers and believers in republicanism, as well as to break the tradition of launching military coups.
The academy is willing to incorporate Saddam-era military men but on certain conditions. It depends on their role in the Ba'ath Party and their past, says Colonel Hutton. This reporter met an ex-officer of Saddam's military who decided to come back. After the fall of Saddam, I tried to work as a civilian but I had no luck. I like the tough life of the military. The 30-something officer was almost apologetic for having served in the ex-dictator's military: I was a soldier and I was not concerned with who was in power.