Free Iraqi Forces Committed to Democracy, Rule of Law

By Jim Garamone, AFPS

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2003 — American service members training Free Iraqi Forces are impressed by the exiles’ commitment to democracy and willingness to secure peace in their homeland.

Army Maj. Gen. David Barno, commander of Task Force Warrior at Taszar Air Base, Hungary, said the Iraqi volunteers will assist American and coalition forces in civil military operations should military action in Iraq become necessary.

Free Iraqi Forces wear battle-dress uniforms with "FIF" patches on their shoulders. In the field, the volunteers will carry 9 mm pistols as self-defense weapons, officials said.

The Hungarian government will allow the United States to train up to 3,000 members of the Free Iraqi Forces at Taszar. Barno would not say how many Iraqis have been trained to date.

The Iraqi volunteers come from all walks of life, he said. The average age of the men is 38. They come from various backgrounds and social classes. They include 18-year-old high school graduates and 55-year-old grandfathers.

The exiles represent Shiia and Sunni Muslims and Arabs and Kurds. "But the common thread with all of them," Barno said, "is their personal commitment to transforming Iraq into a democratic country that follows the rule of law and respects human rights."

The general said that many of the volunteers endured hardships in Iraq and literally remade their lives outside their native land. Now, they are ready to remake their lives again to help Iraq.

Volunteers go through a four-week course. The two-week first phase covers self-defense, the law of armed conflict, map reading, military customs and courtesies, drill and ceremony and ethical decision-making.

"As part of their self-defense training, the volunteers learn such protective measures as basic first aid, land mine identification, training in the use of small arms for self-defense and the use of protective equipment in the event of a nuclear, biological or chemical attacks," Barno said.

In the two-week second phase of training, the volunteers work with American civil affairs specialists from U.S. Special Operations Command. Free Iraqi Forces will serve as invaluable links among the U.S. military, international agencies, nongovernmental humanitarian relief agencies and the Iraqi population, Barno said.

Once finished with the training the Iraqi exiles go to the U.S. Central Command area of operations where they marry up with their civil affairs units. The first cohort graduated in February and is already with their units. The second cohort is nearing graduation.

The American trainers, centered around the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment, from Fort Jackson, S.C., have incorporated lessons they learned from the first cohort in the most recent training session.

"I brought a group of trainers, who were used to training U.S. 18- and 19-year-olds in basic combat training, over here to train a very different group for a very different purpose," Barno said. "Some of the same fundamentals apply, but there are some differences."

These broke down into cultural and age-related changes.

"With an average age of 38, the stamina and fitness of the group is a bit different than 18- and 19-year-olds," he said. "But when lights out comes at 10 o’clock, we have no problem putting anyone to bed. They’re ready to go to sleep."

From a cultural standpoint the use of peer pressure and rewards was different.

"Providing various visible steps with symbolic importance to them as they progress as a group was important to them," he said. "We also found there is some sensitivity to receiving any kind of individual recognition. It’s more appropriate to give group recognition."

The volunteers all are screened before arriving in Hungary, and they receive a stipend from the United States. Only three have failed to complete the course, all for personal or medical reasons.