An Analysis of the Saddam-Era Iraqi Warfighter
by Matthew M. Yalch, edited by Sheldon Lee Gosline
17...Ch 1: The Culture of Iraq
49...Ch 2: The Iraqi Shi'a
77...Ch 3: Modern Iraq
103..Ch 4: The Iraqi Army
127..Ch 5: Iraqi Military Doctrine
154..Ch 6: Perceiving the West
180..Ch 7: Ba'th Soldier
211..Ch 8: Aftermath
260..Index and Bibliography
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About the AUTHOR
Following his graduation from Cornell University where he studied Psychology, Religious Studies, and South Asian Studies, Matthew M. Yalch, born November 15, 1979, enlisted in the U.S. Army as a military intelligence analyst. He worked in the G2 intelligence section of the XVIII Airborne Corps headquartered at Fort Bragg, NC. Following this, he returned to Cornell University for graduate studies, during which time he wrote this book. Upon graduation, he returned to the Army as a military intelligence officer.
Chapter Seven : Ba'th Soldier
Thus far, everything pertaining to the origins, development, socio-political atmosphere, and military conditions of the Saddam-era Iraqi soldier have been to some length analyzed. What has yet to be provided, however, is a focus on how the mindset of this soldier differs from that of the normal Iraqi civilian. This difference in mentality is what this chapter will present.
The two primary subjects of this chapter are the psychodynamics of the military training and the effect that warfare has on the soldier. The psychodynamics of the military experience are common among the armed services of most countries, as are the direct effects of warfare on the soldier. Despite this, socio-cultural consideration must be taken when applying the common paradigms of these broad subjects of interest. This is the case because the vast majority of research done in these areas has been acquired via observation of and experimentation with Western military forces. As such, both of these are viewed in light of the special circumstances of the Iraqi soldier. In other words, one must take into consideration that while he is trained largely by Western means, he is deployed via Soviet doctrine and is, furthermore, above all a Shi�i Arab and an Iraqi citizen.
Before delving into the streams of military thought and social research, however, it is useful to review quickly some of the aspects of the Iraqi soldier already covered. Many of these aspects have particular relevance to and convergence with the functioning of the soldier in the military. The first such topic is the history of warfare in the area now known as Iraq, formerly Mesopotamia. As a result of its arable soil, access to water, and other conditions making it inhabitable, especially relative to the surrounding desert areas, the Mesopotamian region has historically been the constant subject of military campaigns since it was inhabited millennia ago. Accordingly, people raised in this area are heirs to a culture embedded with an ancient history as well as a notable political significance of warfare. Since their initial settling of (or wandering within) Mesopotamia, people of all races and cultures from the Semites to the Persians, the Arabs to the Mongols, and the Ottomans to the Catholic Crusaders, have had to fight to maintain control of, or retain access to, the land. The cultural and military histories of the region are largely the same.
Even in recent history, interest in Mesopotamia remains due to a Western interest in the vast oil resources of the region. This interest is largely of the same nature as previous interest before it, interest in the control over a valuable resource (oil in recent times versus inhabitable land in ancient times). Just as before, this interest is shown via warfare, both covert and overt. As a result, the war-ridden tradition of Mesopotamia continues uninterrupted from times prehistoric to the current events sections of today�s most updated periodicals.
With the ever-present phenomenon of warfare in the region, it is not surprising that cultures indigenous to this region have incorporated warfare into their understanding of the world. This trend is especially relevant for the topic at hand. Bedouin-influenced Arab culture views warfare as a rite of passage and test of manhood. However trivial or bereft of actual lethality such warfare may be (e.g., in the case of standard blood feuds in which deaths are fairly uncommon), those who show bravery in it are rewarded with high social status within the kin group whereas those who lack it are denigrated accordingly. Consistent with this, the raiding of civilian settlements has been almost a past-time for Bedouin nomads, reflecting the depth to which armed conflict rests in Mesopotamian (moreover Arab) culture. That it is specifically this culture that forms the idyllic model of common Iraqi culture (i.e., its culture ideal) foreshadows the quickness with which an Iraqi commoner would take to the military profession, regardless of whether or not he volunteers for it (and most do not).
Yet another factor affecting the Iraqi soldier�s performance lies in the Iraqi view of the military. A carryover from Ottoman times, in which the officer corps of the Iraqi Army constituted the social elite of the country since the country freed itself from the colonial grip of the British, the military profession is considered to be one of high status. Furthermore, as has already been shown, it was the very same Army officers who governed the country that liberated it from the British in the first place. With the reign of Saddam Hussein and his obsession with all things military, the role of the Army with respect to society has been great. The Iraqi Army has been the social ideal for the Iraqi citizen and, as a police force, the savior for those experiencing, or deadly nemesis for those causing, internal strife within the nation. In any case, high standing within the military hierarchy has been viewed as the highest form of social standing in the Iraqi context ever since there was an Iraqi context of which to speak.
Aside from strictly historical matters, there are certain aspects of the Arab way of life that predispose Iraqis towards a propensity toward the military lifestyle. By culture and upbringing, Arabs have many of the same personality characteristics that are common in the military. The most blatant of these characteristics is authoritarianism, which manifests itself in the traditional Arab perception of, deference to, and fully utilizing one�s own authority. As has been said many times before, this is especially true in the Iraqi case, given not only the functional means of interacting, but the wide popularity and approval of the former Iraqi dictator and popular icon, Saddam Hussein.
Related to this is the social value placed on masculinity in Iraqi and greater Arab society. The male is the head of the household, the agent of justice distribution within the family, and the preferred sex of a child in a family (there is no gender-neutral word for male children in Arabic and upon being asked how many children one has, one generally responds with the number of male children). The male is the clear decision-maker of the Iraqi household and a macrocosm of this is observed in the greater Iraqi society in which patriarchal dictator is the political leader of the state. The role of the female in Iraqi family and society reflects not only the social stratification based on sex resulting from the elevation of the male, but also the religious conservatism inherent in Iraqi and greater Arab society. Although Islam has very liberal branches that fall under its religious heading, the varieties most prevalent in Iraq are conservative, be they Sunni, Shi�i, or Kurdish types. This religious conservatism is apparent not only in sexual and familial matters, but also in matters concerning interpretation of scripture, law, government, and other, more mundane social interactions. Such conservatism, as will be discussed a bit later, is well-suited for the military mentality, making the ideological shift from civilian to soldier potentially less troubling than for the more liberal Westerner.
Again with regard to religion, despite the lack of validity in theories professing that Islam is any more of a religion of war than Christianity or Judaism, Muslims may be slightly more educated about warfare via religion. Although there is no evidence that war is any more frequently discussed in the Judeo-Christian canon than in the Qu�ran, the Qu�ran does set forth parameters by which war should be conducted. In other words, although the Qu�ran does not advocate war any more than other religions, it does attempt to educate its reader about what is correct behavior during military engagement. Although the prescribed behavior coincides actually quite well with the Geneva conventions, the result of its mere existence in the Qu�ran is a familiarity with the concepts of war. Independent of other historical and social factors, this is lacking in Islam�s monotheistic counterparts. The same cannot be said for the polytheistic and monistic religions with which Islam has had frequent contact, however. Graeco-Roman religion is riddled with stories of war, most of them entailing some form of divine intervention at some level or another, and Hinduism� Bhagavad Gita spends the bulk of its pages describing the efforts of a deity (Krishna) to convince the book�s main character (Arjuna, Indian mythology�s equivalent of Achilles) to go to war. These cross-religious comparisons aside, what is most important is that by virtue of being Muslim, a greater academic familiarity with war is inherently experienced on top of the historical, cultural, and political familiarities already common to being an Arab and an Iraqi.
Within the variety of Islam most common within the Iraqi soldiery, there are additional aspects of the uniquely Shi�i religious history that make this religion particularly well-informed in matters concerning war. The ideal of martyrdom and the less commonly invoked concept of jihad as holy war are two ideas that, by virtue of their mere inclusion in the religious tradition and history of Shi�ism, make the Shi�i Muslim more aware of how war is conducted. Moreover, Islam in general instructs how one should be behave and how one will be treated by the divine in the scenario in which one should fine oneself engaged in war. The purpose of the past few paragraphs is by no means to imply that the Iraqi citizen or the Arab in general is innately capable of any more violence than any other cultural or racial category of human being, nor that Islam is any more of a war religion than any other. No one is born a warrior, much less a trained soldier. The traits belonging to people carrying such labels are formed as a result of indoctrination, cultivation, and constant continuous training. What is meant by this introduction is not to say that the Iraqi Shi�i Arab, who formed the bulk of the basic fighting force of the Saddam-era Iraqi Army, is predisposed to being a soldier. Rather, what is meant is that on the basis of his ancient and modern history, personality characteristics resulting from his traditional Arab upbringing, and existence within the socio-political atmosphere unique to Iraq, is merely better suited (than, say, a Chinese Buddhist) to such an occupation. With this very general introduction, we will now move on to a discussion of the psychodynamics of the military mind.
The Military Mind
Just as the skills and abilities of a soldier are not innate, nor is the mindset of one who is, or will become, a soldier. This is true for any occupation, from bricklayer to physician. It is true, however, that certain qualities inherent in a person will lend to that person both a desire and a psycho-physiological condition better suited for a certain kind of work. For example, one with a strong build and a personality that prizes conformity and order will be better suited for a profession in the military or police than would someone with a less sturdy build, a liberal outlook, and a passion for fictional writing. Having said this, however, it is particularly true in the armed forces across national and cultural boundaries that there is a special process at work that turns the common civilian, regardless of how personologically well-suited he may be for the military profession, into a soldier.
One common feature of all branches of all military organizations is the total indoctrination of the new recruit as part of his integration into the military organization. This is particularly true of the enlisted soldier, as opposed to the officer, whose training values free thinking and psycho-social development to a much greater extent. Enrollment into the military, be it voluntary or involuntary, involves assimilation into a total institution, an organization that controls, regulates, or at least heavily influences all aspects of one�s life. This control begins with the harsh socialization of the initiation ritual, aimed at disintegration of the previous identity and the reconstruction of a new identity in keeping with a standardized set behavioral model. Social theorist Michel Foucault was one of the first to describe how the total institution attempts to accomplish this:
[I]t is exercised over them a constant pressure to conform to the same model, so that they might all be subjected to �subordination, docility, attention in studies and exercises, and to the correct practice of duties and all the parts of discipline.� So that they might all be like one another.i
Beginning with the initiation of the new member into the organization, the total institution (i.e., one that regulates all aspects of the lives of its associates) exerts constant vigilance and every conceivable form of influence (physical, psychological, social) to ensure that there is conformity to a standard norm of thought and behavior. This trend is common for all total institutions, be they military, disciplinary, or religious. Such institutions differ from one another in the degree to which they exert this influence, whether it is corporal punishment or mere physical intimidation that constitutes the physical aspect of influence. They also differ in the duration of this influence (i.e., how long after the conclusion of the initiation do conditions similar to those of the initiation apply).
The means of disintegrating and reconstructing the identity of new initiates is found in world�s the armed forces. Being an organization with a history as long as humanity itself, the military has developed a standard method of developing its recruits. Social scientist Peter Bourne pinpoints the process as follows:
1.stripping away of civilian cues
2.progressive breaking down of the individual�s pride in his former, civilian self
3.rebuilding and reorganization of personality by providing awards
4.final test of proficiency followed by graduation ceremonyii
These stages are common to virtually every armed force in the world, including that of Saddam-era Iraq. The goal of the first phase is the remove all possible indications of one�s former identity as a civilian. This includes the shaving off of hair, the replacement of civilian clothing with military clothing and the referring to recruits by labels other than their given name (e.g., by the last name, identity number, or by some label given to the recruit). To as great an extent possible, this process removes everything civilian from the person in question.
The next stage is to break down the esteem the recruit had in his former civilian identity. Corporal, physical, and emotional punishments are given for any action performed by the new recruit that (at least in the eyes of the trainer) do not coincide with the desired standard. At the beginning of the initiation ritual, such punishments are unending and there is seemingly no way in which the trainers and supervisors of the new recruits can be pleased, no way to avoid the punishments. This results in a state of hopelessness and helplessness.
The next stage begins to replace the despair of the previous stage with a sense of pride in being able to embody the standard towards which the recruit or class of recruits is striving to resemble. This can come in the form of verbal compliments, creature comforts (e.g., extra food, extra sleep), or in the awarding of status symbols to recruits (e.g., ribbons or other awards given both to the individual recruit and the group). Although the recruit has his confidence boosted at this stage, there is still the blatant understanding the there is a difference between the trainer and the trainees and by no means are the trainees considered to be of the same caliber as the ideal soldier.
The final stage is the shortest stage and consists of a final test or series of tests followed by a graduation ceremony. This is true for all institutions of military training, from initial entry in to the armed forces (basic training or boot camp) to training attended as a high-ranking non-commissioned officer (NCO) or commissioned officer. The tests serve less to accurately assess the recruits as to their competency in military skills than to convince the recruits themselves that they are competent, that there has been a change from the time they began the initiation to the point at which it is complete. The final ceremony marks a particular place in time at which the recruit ceases to be a civilian and officially assumes his identity as a soldier.
It is useful to note here that while there is a standard to be met within military training, this standard is always superseded in the person that is the trainer. In basic training for the U.S. Army, the trainers (drill sergeants) are not mere soldiers, they are the best soldiers, high-ranking NCOs laden with ribbons, patches, and medals symbolizing qualification in various military skills. Even if the soldier succeeds in graduating from the initiation ritual of basic training, he is still not considered to be at the same caliber as is the drill sergeant.
From the enlisted soldier�s initial entrance into the military organization until his death or otherwise release from it, the means by which his behavior is regulated is by means of a system of coercive control. This method �assumes that men are naturally lazy, uncooperative, and likely to avoid risks,� coercive techniques include �physical punishment, mental harassment, docking pay, restriction of freedom of movement.�iii Along with this method is the predominant tendency to punish actions deemed bad rather than rewarding good ones. Accordingly, military justice tends to be hold greater value for avoiding bad outcomes than trying to achieve those that are good. This results in a tendency among soldiers to do the bare minimum, just enough not to be penalized. Once the bare minimum is found, it becomes the informal standard to which soldiers compare their actions.
Since one can only be punished at the completion of job and rarely if ever rewarded, this trend coincides with the desire among soldiers to avoid as much work as possible. Ultimately, the coercive method of behavioral control results in a self-fulfilling prophecy of soldier lethargy. The actions stemming from the trainer�s belief that men are inherently lazy themselves result in soldiers behaving lazily, thereby confirming the trainer�s beliefs in the first place.
Regardless of the degree to which the coercive control method establishes a work ethic of laziness in the soldiers to which it is applied, the avoidance of work ideology is quite compatible with the Arab predisposition against doing manual labor, Arabs considering such work to beneath them. As, aside from actual combat, the life of a soldier primarily concerns menial chores such as the cleaning of weapons, the loading and unloading of vehicles, and other tasks that, while necessary, are not immediately associated with the act of fighting, soldiers have a glut of opportunities in which to be slothful It has been the observation of many American soldiers (who themselves are effected by the laziness engendered by the coercive control method) stationed in Iraq that Iraqi soldiers are lazy, that they do only those jobs that can be performed under the strictest of supervision and that, even under these conditions, these tasks are done at the lowest possible standard.
The objection could be raised that there is an element of racism or other form of prejudice at work here. This perception, however, is not extended to all indigenous people under American military occupation. Reports from many deployed soldiers have been that in Iraq, Kurds in the north of the country have a fastidious work ethic and an admirably sense of honesty. Within Afghanistan the experience has been that the Afghans� performance on U.S. Army construction projects has been not only meticulous but genuinely high-quality, to the extent that Afghan work projects have had a sturdier construction and more complex design than those projects done by Americans. Two observations are relevant to note in the cases involving the Kurds and Afghans. The first is that they are not soldiers, and the second is that they are not Arabs. Both of these conditions result in a significantly lessened resistance to the idea of performing manual labor.
A further result of the punitive nature of coercive control is the reduction of all matters to violence. Violence, be it verbal, emotional, or actual physical violence in the form of corporal punishment is the sole means of conflict resolution supplied in military indoctrination and, largely, in common military practice. This practice, too, fits well with the typical Arab Iraqi means of child development, as severe corporal punishment of both males and females is commonplace. Not only is this the only means deemed acceptable to solving a problem (be it one of combat or of a more social nature), but moreover violence itself is linked with masculinity and the role of the soldier:
The lesson that the drill sergeant teaches is that physical aggression is the essence of manhood and that violence an effective and desirable solution for the problems that soldier will face on the battlefield.iv
The use of violence, however, does not stop at the battlefield. It continues into the home life and, importantly in the case of American soldiers currently deployed to Iraq, into the diplomatic realm.
The overwhelming use of violence and its association with masculinity is especially important in the Iraqi context because its constant presence (and threat of its exertion) reinforces the intense focus on masculinity already rampant in Arab culture. Iraqi males, entrenched in a culture that revolves around violence that is associated with heightened masculinity, are destined to find their own stereotypical male behaviors (chauvenism, lack of temper control, violence of all types) occurring at an increased rate as well.
Soldiers are conscripted into the Iraqi Army before the onset of social maturity. The overwhelming use of one style of conflict resolution, though it may indeed be appropriate in many situations, stunts the development of other methods appropriate in situations in which violence is not. This is not the only aspect of the youth that is affected by military indoctrination, however. Many aspects of mature development are adversely affected. One clinical psychologist writes:
The military experience (especially exposure to modern warfare) has a tendency to disrupt character formation by working against individuation, increasing superego punitiveness (which generates increased aggression), interrupting the development of ego continuity, inhibiting a clear-cut sexual identity based on normal heterosexual contact, and preventing the working through of childhood trauma.v
The result, then, of such early indoctrination into military organizations is an inherent instability of the youth. This is not only manifested in a reliance on the patterns of thought and behavior trained (intentionally or unintentionally) by the military, but also a generalized desire and need for group involvement. An early study on American ROTC cadets found that they had �a more favorable attitude toward membership in organized uniformed groups, authority and position, and a withdrawing disposition on social situations� relative to their non-ROTC companions.vi What is important to note here is that undergoing military indoctrination at an early age fosters a need for group affiliation and involvement.
In the Iraqi context, this tendency is crucial for two reasons. The first is that, structurally, the military is somewhat similar to the traditional Arab tribal structure in its hierarchy and patriarchic governance. As such, the shift in allegiance from the first organization to the second should be relatively easy once the initiation ceremony has been completed. The second reason for this importance, however, is the lack of such ease in reverting back to the tribal structure after the removal from the military one. The familial tribe is an influential force in the life of the average Arab, but it is not a total institution. Removal from the military, especially when through it one has learned or re-learned the means by which one is to interact with one�s environment, creates large amounts of anxiety in the person removed. This is typically seen not only in Arab countries, but also in Western ones and failure to adjust to civilian life is a common problem for those people recently released from military service. In the Iraqi context, the norm is that of the tribal institution, being of a more similar structure to the military than the typical Western nuclear family. Because of this, soldiers being released from the Iraqi Army have increased expectations the social organization to which they are headed will provide the life-governing aspects that the military did. Betraying this expectation makes adjustment to civilian life all the more difficult.
A related aspect of military life that makes return to civilian life problematic is the order and structure provided by the military. One early study found that soldiers tend to exhibit high degrees of Freud�s anal complex.vii In other words, this study related the personality traits commonly found in and fostered by the military (orderliness, parsimony, and obstinacy) to those traits observed by Freud as belonging to people having undergone a disruption during an early phase of childhood development in which the retention and expulsion of feces is the child�s only means of exerting control over his or her environment. What this means is that the military fosters the type of personality that requires order (specifically that which is externally imposed) and is dysfunctional without it. Because the military typically exerts influence on its recruits before their personalities are fully developed, the effect is stronger than what it would be on an average person whose personality has had time to fully integrate. As such, one would expect conscripted Iraqi soldiers to have a greater degree of anal personality traits than, for example, American soldiers who joined (or, in the case of decades past, were drafted) at a later age.
That the military influence is imprinted on recruits at an age before personality is fully developed and integrated, it is not surprising that the influence the military has on personality are permanent. The effects of military indoctrination are often turning points in the lives of those who have undergone it and the change resulting from it last for a lifetime. The nature of this influence (from a distant but profound memory to a permanent change in thought and behavior), however, varies per the individual person. Studies have shown, however, that the longer one exists within the military institution, the more strongly the military personality is embedded in the recruit and the longer this influence will last upon departure from the military.viii
In terms of political affiliation, the military also exerts a strong influence on those serving within its ranks. It does this in a variety of ways and, moreover, in a fairly standardized way such that all people in the armed forces, even those of radically different countries, are exposed to a similar brand of political ideological indoctrination. The type of political ideology that is endemic to military institutions is conservatism. This conservatism is not the type of political conservatism found in modern American politics (i.e., that allied with free market economic models), but rather that of moral and social conservatism. Military and social theorist Samuel Huntington writes that conservatism �is basically similar to the military ethic.� He goes on further to say that:
In its theories of man, society, and history, its recognition of the role of power in human relations, its acceptance of existing institutions, its limited goals, and its distrust of grand designs, conservatism is at one with the military ethic.ix
With its penchant for order and insistence on subordination to authority, it is not difficult to understand why military ideology has such a vast overlap with political conservatism. This overlap is even more pronounced in the Arab world, where conservative ideology is the norm to begin with, thus being amply reinforced within military organizations.
Being a total institution, the military by its very nature allows for very little external political influence on those serving within it. Again, this is true to an even greater extent in Saddam-era Iraq due to Saddam�s control over the popular media. Not only does the military prevent external political influence, however, it also actively inculcates its own conservative ideology in its recruits. In addition to the active endorsement of conservative political ideals (primarily through cadence chanting and modeling), political dissenters are removed from or otherwise corrected through military training. Dealing with those recruits possessing political dissimilarity is not a passive process: dissidence it is sharply monitored and, where observed, decisively suppressed.x In an atmosphere as politically sensitive as the Saddam-era Iraqi Army (in which Shi�i soldiers in particular had to be monitored in order to ensure their readiness to fight, be it against other Shi�a or in defense of their Sunni leader), this political surveillance was necessarily more extensive than that in the U.S. Army. With its massive intelligence and security networks, Saddam�s Iraq had an even greater capacity to perform such surveillance.
The net result of the political indoctrination of the Iraqi soldier is a reinforcement of the already very conservative ideology of the Shi�i Arab Iraqi soldier. Although this by no means fosters a greater tendency towards fundamentalist Islam (such a thing would not be allowed by Saddam), it does engender a stronger faith in typical Islamic values (e.g., wearing of the hijab by women, observance of Islamic holidays, etc.). Accordingly, it is in no way surprising that the Iraqi soldiers, upon being released from their service in the Iraqi Army, would be more supportive of a more authoritarian, more Islamic derived regime than more of a liberal, democratic political scheme promoted by the U.S. This is not to say that the U.S. had little effect on the Iraqi soldiers, for it is just this effect to which we will turn next.
The War with the U.S. and Its Aftermath
Given the type of indoctrination given to the Iraqi soldiers by the very nature of their conscription into the Iraqi Army and the popularity of Saddam Hussein as leader of Iraq, the lack of resistance put forth by the regular Iraqi Army in defense of its country during the 2001 invasion of Iraq is mysterious. This mystery is further propounded by the vigor with which these same soldiers fought against the American occupying forces after the official invasion had ceased. This section will first take a look at why the abandonment of posts by the common Iraqi soldier occurred and, following this, the effect war had on the Iraqi soldiers.
In the U.S. Army, soldiers commonly speak of the intense emotional bonds forged in combat and the altruistic behavior arising from these bonds are readily available in popular mythology (e.g., the soldier thoughtlessly throwing himself onto a grenade to save his comrades in arms from being killed). This bond exists not among divisions of brigades, but among smaller groups of soldiers and it is to these smaller groups that one�s senses of loyalty and self-esteem are tied. More than anything else, it is this same type of bond that makes American soldiers stay with their soldiers on the battlefield. Military historian John Keegan writes:
[O]rdinary soldiers do not think of themselves, in life-and-death situations, as subordinate members of whatever formal military organization it is to which authority has assigned them, but as equals within a very tiny group � perhaps not more than six or seven men. They are not exact equals, of course, because at least one of them will hold junior military rank and he � though perhaps another, naturally stronger character � will be looked to for leadership. But it will not be because of his or anyone else�s leadership that the group member will begin to fight and continue to fight. It will be, on the other hand, for personal survival, which individuals will recognize to be bound up with group survival, and, on the other, for fear of incurring by cowardly conduct the group�s contempt.xi
For American soldiers, it is fighting for and alongside of their comrades that makes them stay in battle. For Iraqi soldiers, however, this is not the case. Rather than fighting primarily for the soldiers beside them in their small groups, Iraqi soldiers fought out of fear of the possible retribution from Saddam if they did not fight.xii As has been mentioned, much soldierization process concerns the breaking down of the individual and the understanding of oneself as being part of a group that is controlled by a higher authority. American psychologist Stanley Milgram did much of the work that forms the basis of what social scientists today know about obedience to authority. Conditions for relinquishing autonomous authority:
1.perception of authority: concerns the legitimacy of authority and the absence of competing authorities and other �anomalous factors� (e.g., a child claiming to be a scientist)
2.relevancy of authority to the person in question: the definition of the obedient person as being under the command of the other
3.coordination of command with function of authority: the relevance of the commander and his command to the area to which these commands apply (e.g., a college professor would not necessarily have coordination of command in a battlefield environment)
4.legitimacy of the institution of authority: the belief that the institution form which authority is granted to the commander is a valid one (e.g., the validity of a religion for the cleric)xiii
What is important here is that these conditions were not met, that in the 2001 invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein and the officers appointed under him failed to provide sufficient authority to warrant the Iraqi troops to continue fighting.
The failure of the Iraqi military authority is puzzling but not entirely without a plausible answer. First, because the bombing of locations believed to house Saddam Hussein began before the war actually started, at no point was the Iraqi leader present on or near the battlefield. As such, at no point did he have direct contact with his troops. In his famous experiment on obedience in which subjects were administered shocks to a person in another room at the command of the experiment�s �scientist,� Milgram noted that �obedience dropped sharply when the experimenter was physically removed from the laboratory.�xiv The military extension of this idea is that the physical presence of the commander on the battlefield matters to the troops. Without propinquity to their commander-in-chief, the motivation of the Iraqi soldiers to fight was reduced.
Another factor relating to the diminished impact of authority was the lack of perception by the Iraqi soldiers that their leader had lost some of the overwhelming, nearly omnipotent charisma that he once had and to which the massive propaganda of Saddam�s personality cult was devoted. Milgram noted in his study that �authority needs to be seen as something larger than the individual,� that the leader must represent something greater than himself or anyone he leads in order to get his followers to fight for him.xv For the relationship between Saddam Hussein and the soldiers serving him in the Iraqi Army, this was no longer the case. Soldiers fighting in wars against the U.S., particularly the most recent one, generally held higher esteem for their survival than that of their government and its military leadership structure. Such was not the case for previous Iraqi wars, such as those fought against Iran and Israel. That there was such rampant desertion indicates that there was a failure of soldier motivation on two different levels. First, there was the failure of the primary means of combat motivation, that of the military chain of command (including its commander in chief). Second, there was the collective opinion of entire small groups of people (as opposed to an independent effort on the part of many individuals) that the war was not worth fighting. Although the Iraqis did not fight primarily for this latter reason, the effects of camaraderie were no doubt still there, but were overcome as well.
What was similar among both American and Iraqi soldiers, however, was their collective psychological response to the conditions of war. Across soldiers and civilians from all walks of life, the types of psychological trauma brought on by mortal combat are the same, although they vary in degree of seriousness and duration according to both situation and personality. Among the common psychological responses to war trauma are acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders (e.g., panic disorders, phobias), somatoform and psychophysiological disorders, antisocial behavior, and adjustment disorder.
Writes one clinician of war veterans: �Everyone exposed to the extreme stress of war develops some symptoms no matter how transitory or fleeting.�xvi This being the case, however, does not diminish the fact that the effects of the war on Iraqi soldiers, though similar in nature, was more pronounced due to their role in the conflict as well as their socio-cultural predispositions. The prevalence of psychological trauma tends to be more intense the greater the degree of combat.xvii Because of the sustained bombing campaign before the land war and the continued urban guerrilla war, the majority of the combat stress from which was and is on the Iraqis, the psychological toll of the war is thus higher for Iraqi soldiers than their American counterparts.
There are also socio-cultural issues that make the Iraqi Shi�a more susceptible to war trauma. Factors such as childhood abuse, common among general Arab upbringing, and parental poverty, especially common among Iraqi Arab Shi�a (the bulk of the Iraqi military) associated with a greater degree of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The best known of the disorders stemming from exposure to combat, some of the hallmarks of PTSD are repeated re-experiences of the traumatic event, avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event, hyper-vigilance, exaggerated startle response, and foreshortened expectations for the future.xviii Although the increased incidence of this disorder among former Iraqi soldiers is itself significant, two things in particular about this disease that are relevant to the Iraqi soldiers as they figured into the war�s aftermath. The first of these relates to the latter symptom mentioned, foreshortened expectations for the future. This symptom exacerbates the already existing characteristic in the Arab psyche of fatalism, which ultimately allows one to put oneself more readily into life-threatening situations, as the threat to one�s life is diminished as a result of the fatalistic idea that life will end shortly regardless.
The second point of importance about PTSD is its comorbidity with depression. In contrast with fatalism, which primarily in a argumentative sense related to the potential for increased suicidal behavior, depression is actually strongly linked to self-destruction. The existence of depression, especially when combined with PTSD or other psychological disorders, is highly correlated with suicide. With respect to war trauma in particular, studies have shown that there is up to a six-fold increase in the likelihood of suicide following traumatic life experiences.xix It is sadly ironic that by the sheer virtue of their having survived the �shock and awe� bombing campaign and at least one (perhaps two, depending on length of military service) wars with American ground forces, the Iraqi soldier is more likely to engage in self-destructive behavior.
The psychological motivations for such suicides, however, are different depending on the individual psychological case in question. In his classic study Suicide, Durkheim described four main types of suicide, distinguished from each other by the reasons for which they are committed.xx Three of these four are especially relevant to the Iraqi case. First and most obvious is the heightened existence of fatalistic suicide, suicide committed on the belief that life is useless and its end is inevitable anyway. The second type of suicide relevant for our purposes is egoistic suicide. This variety of self-destruction results from feeling a lack or removal of integration from group. This occurs in the post-combat period for a variety of reasons. One such reason is the aforementioned difficulty of former Iraqi soldiers to reintegrated back into civilian life, the failure of which leaves them in a state of social disconnect. Another such reason is the loss of comrades (or family members, for that matter) lost in the way, resulting in feelings of grief as a result of the loss of emotional bond and in some cases survivor�s guilt for living through a situation in which someone else perished. Both of these occurrences lead to an increased likelihood of egoistic suicide.
Also affecting the incidence of egoistic suicide is the effect war trauma potentially has on the personalities of those who have undergone it. Psychological research suggests that among combat veterans from the American war with Vietnam, there was a likening of personality characteristics to those of the borderline and narcissistic personalities, which in turn caused interruptions of civilian life and other difficulties in reintegration with society.xxi Apart from the obvious significance of these characteristics leading to disconnection with society, which itself is a cause of egoistic suicide, these personality disorders to which trauma victims fall prey to becoming similar to, in particular the borderline personality disorder, result in higher rates of egoistic suicide in and of themselves.
Less obviously related to the effects of war trauma are incidences of altruistic suicide, resulting from excessive integration with the group. This type of suicide is present among former Iraqi soldiers in situations in which, following their release from military service, they find group affiliation, not with family, kin, or other social structures, but with militia groups recruiting ex-soldiers for the purpose of suicide bombing and other potentially self-destructive missions. Given the underlying religious potential of the region to twist Shi�i Islam for militant purposes, this form of suicide is particularly well-suited to produce martyrs in the guerrilla war against American occupying forces. Although altruistic suicide is particularly ripe for the recruitment of such martyrs, anyone with a potentially suicidal disposition (be it an egoistic or fatalistic nature) can be recruited to end their life serving a cause that is, if not truly good, then at least useful.
The purpose of this chapter was to describe the psychology of the Saddam-era Iraqi soldier by building on what has been discussed so far with respect to Iraqi history, culture, and society, and factoring in the additional influence of the military institution that separates the mind of an Iraqi soldier from that of the common Iraqi citizen. What is unique about the Middle Eastern society relative to Western society is how readily the former�s citizen can be successfully integrated into a total institution with which so many Westerners find great internal disagreement.
Although the latter portion of this chapter included brief mention of the effects of the U.S. wars with Iraq on the Iraqi soldier, the most recent war in which Iraqi society was effectively broken brought in a new era in which the Iraqi soldier was left without a social niche. Not only was his society destroyed, but the organization into which he had become integrated, the Iraqi Army, was disbanded, leaving him in a state of virtual limbo. The next chapter will deal with the aftermath of the last American war with Iraq and the effects it had and continues to have on the Iraqi soldier after his discharge from armed service.