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Iraqis review lessons at Quantico

During their first few days in the United States, 13 officers from the Iraqi army visited the traditional tourist spots of the nation’s capital.

They walked to the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Washington Monument and the White House, and spent time in the Smithsonian Institution.

At the Capitol, they were impressed by schoolchildren who had traveled there from Virginia Beach for a firsthand look at the nation’s legislative process.

But when it came time to pick up a few souvenirs for family, they were disappointed. They couldn’t find anything made in the USA.

Seeing tourist sites wasn’t the chief purpose for the soldiers’ 25-day trip to America, but it played an important role, according to NATO Political and Cultural Advisor Haider Abbud and Marine Lt. Col. Donald Hawkins.

Gaining an understanding of each others’ cultures has been critical as coalition forces have been helping Iraq’s new national army with the nation’s transition to a democracy.

Last year, American officers spent four months in Iraq training these soldiers on the collection, analysis and dissemination of information to create the Iraqi Lessons Learned Center in Baghdad.

This is the officers’ first trip abroad and their first opportunity to begin sharing what they’ve learned since establishing the center in November.

This week, the officers came to Quantico to the Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned. Before heading home, they’ll travel to Suffolk for a meeting at the joint services center for lessons learned and to the Army’s lessons-learned facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

The Marines established their center a little over two years ago to quickly make adjustments in operations in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.

The center employs a mix of Marines and civilians and looks at all aspects of the deployments–from doctrine to organization, training, leadership, facilities, materiel and people.

It currently has a four-member team researching traumatic brain injury in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other teams have studied things such as detention procedures.

Pre-deployment practices are constantly being evaluated and revised, said Hawkins, the Marine Corps center’s branch head for integration and technology.

“It is critical that the Iraqi armed forces are able to do this kind of analysis of their own military and make adjustments,” Hawkins said. That was the purpose in trying to sell them on creating their own center.

The sale to Lt. Gen. Nasier Abadi, deputy commander of the Iraqi joint forces, turned out to be an easy one, Hawkins said.

“I was prepared to brief him on the benefits and why you’d want the lessons-learned capability and within two minutes, the tables were turned,” Hawkins said.

Abadi began telling Hawkins of the importance not only for his country but for the region–especially with regard to dealing with terrorist activity.

“He had a global view of the need for this capability,” Hawkins said.

Sharing information among the two nations and continually refining operations “has a direct effect” on the ability of the United States to withdraw its troops, Hawkins said.

Abbud, who was born in Iraq but is now an American citizen, said he’s seen tremendous strides in Iraq’s progress since employing the lessons-learned practice of gathering information in the field, handing it off to analysts who condense it into critical reports and then forward it to the decision-makers.

“The civilian population have much greater confidence in the Iraqi army than in the past,” he said.

Brig. Gen. Abu Ahmad is commander of the Iraqi Lessons Learned Center. He accepted the position when others were reluctant for fear of reprisal.

“They were scared to work with American troops because they were afraid of retaliation,” Abbud said, translating Ahmad’s remarks.

But, after seeing the success of the program, Ahmad said others are now interested in taking part.

So far, the center’s system has resolved problems with pay, food and housing, as well as establishing an early retirement-type system for high-ranking officers of the former regime’s army.

This week, he planned to share information with his American counterparts relating to the roadside bombs that have continually wreaked havoc.

Ahmad is not the general’s real name. None of the Iraqis in the United States would be interviewed using their real names out of concern for their safety and that of their families.

Ahmad said one of the toughest tasks working with the Americans has been getting them to grasp the complexities of Iraqi culture. In his statement, he revealed that it’s not easy to grasp another’s culture without careful study.

“We’re here to teach the American people our nature,” said Ahmad, who understands and speaks English but is more comfortable with an interpreter.

“I think in America, there is one nature.”

Ahmad is pleased to be part of the new military system and with the progress of his nation in the post-Saddam era. He said his focus is “the liberty principle,” meaning freedom for all, not favoring any particular faction.

“I work under the Iraqi flag only. That is my doctrine,” he said.

He sees reestablishing ties with the United States and working with its military as an important step for his country.

“We’ve been away from the American for so long and we need to get back to working together,” he said.
To reach PAMELA GOULD: 540/735-1972



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