Tuesday, March 5, 2013

GUEST POST: Hanging Out With the Iraqi Armed Forces by Sean McLachlan

Today I'm featuring a guest post by Sean McLachlan. Sean's not only a blogger and professional writer, but he's also recently started writing travel articles. Today we're taking a look at his experiences with the Iraqi armed forces...

Hanging out with the Iraqi armed forces

Sean McLachlan

In Iraq, there’s a bewildering variety of armed forces everywhere you look. There’s the army, national and local police, private security groups for political parties and religious sects, local militias both legal and illegal, and terrorist groups. Individuals can be in more than one force and the factions are tied together in a complex web of alliances and rivalries.

A few months ago I spent three weeks traveling in Iraq and got to spend a lot of time with the Iraqi police and a fair amount of time with the army too. Tourism in Iraq is still in its early stages and only a few companies have permission to go there. Individual tourism is forbidden and all groups have a police escort and occasionally army escorts as well.

It’s difficult to make any generalizations about the armed forces in Iraq. Some are armed with AK-47s, some with M-16s. Some wear Kevlar, some don’t. Some drive around in APCs or Hummers while many simply pile into the back of pickup trucks protected by sheet metal, making lovely targets for anyone with an RPG.

Below are some images I gathered while touring the country.

When we passed through the Sunni Triangle we got an escort of Special Forces

Oh wait, make that “Spacel Forcas”. It looks like The Punisher is popular in Iraq!

 The army guys get to ride around in pimped-up Hummers.

 Here’s their logo.

Mostly we were provided with regular police. They tended to be more laid back than the Army guys. Here’s one gathering fruit by the side of the highway.

Here’s some detail of the police insignia.

The police have some Hummers and APCs, but mostly have to use pickup trucks with a bit of armoring. I doubt that the sheets of metal on the sides could stop a bullet.

The green uniform is national police. The guys in the blue uniform are from local police. They’re on the roof of Saddam’s palace in Babylon.

Two members of the national police guarding the gate of Babylon. Note that they’re wearing different uniforms than the other national police I’ve shown. This may have been because of supply problems, regional differences, or some other reason. I could never get a clear answer.

Accompanying us 24/7 were two plainclothes officers from the Interior Ministry. Here’s Captain Ali shooting at a not-too-distant can. He fired four times and missed each time. That wasn’t terribly reassuring.

In general the Iraqi armed forces, like the Iraqis in general, were welcoming and interested in talking with us. My few hundred words of bad Arabic got put to the test every day. A couple of them proudly told me they had served with the Coalition forces. One even had photos of himself and his U.S. Army buddies on his cell phone.

This is very much a once-over-lightly look at the Iraqi armed forces, so I’ll be hanging out in the comments section if you have any questions.

Sean McLachlan has written numerous military history books for Osprey and is the author of the novel A Fine Likeness, set in the American Civil War. You can read more about his travels in Iraq in the online series Destination: Iraq.


Sean McLachlan said...

Thanks for having me, Jack!

Jack Badelaire said...

Looks like Captain Ali went to Spacel marksmanship training...

Glad to have you over here, Sean. I follow your articles on Gadling, and so should everyone else!

Stan R. Mitchell said...

Great snapshot of the situation, Sean.

And I think you're more trusting than me. I wouldn't have trusted two dopes with pistols, personally speaking.

I wouldn't have traveled with less than a full-size M-16A2 (screw the little M4s, I'm old school and let me have my damn iron sights, too).

Dan Eldredge said...

Interesting article Sean. Surprising that you got a warm welcome--I think that many Americans probably assume that Iraq is still completely lawless, and everyone, including the armed forces & police, spend more time shouting "Death to America!" than enforcing law & order.

Sean McLachlan said...

Stan: Yeah, trust is a key element in adventure travel. I figured that out back in the early 1990s when I was hanging out in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan. I was in the countryside with a group of Pathan tribesmen, all of whom were toting AK-47s. I realized they could kill me at any time but had no reason to and there was nothing I could do about it anyway, so I just chilled out.
I can't go back there because nowadays that region is Taliban central. Those crazies don't care about traditional Eastern hospitality. There's a fine line between being trusting and being suicidal!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Looks like most of them were as real as any other person.
Hopefully no cans attacked you while you were in Iraq.