Strategy Page compares the New ISF to the Saddam-era military forces. There has been major improvements, namely that Iraq has a real army these days.

The Saddam-era military had roughly 250,000 soldiers in the Republican Guard and Regular Army. It relied on Arab Sunni officers to command the ‘elite’ Republican Guard, which got most of the training and decent equipment in Iraq. The Regular Army was mostly filled with poorly trained conscripts. The old Iraqi military forces were poorly equipped, poorly trained, poorly led and highly corrupt. It was better designed to suppress indigenous rebellions than fight wars.

Saddam’s real power laid with his intelligence service, secret police, and paramilitaries such as the Fedayeen Saddam, which were also dominated by the Sunni Arabs.

These security forces routinely massacred Kurds and Shia – some half a million killed, but as a military force, they were a joke. Iraqi soldiers surrendered to CNN cameramen. Once they encountered resistance, they deserted or surrendered.

In comparison, the Army and Police forces now function like a real army, although there are still corruption problems.

The current army has been much more carefully selected and trained. Most of the troops, especially the officers and NCOs, are Shia Arabs, with a large Kurdish majority. Many of these had never served as officers and had to be trained from scratch. The Iraqi national police is larger than it’s ever been, with about 165,000 men (and some women) in uniform. These people are not as well trained as the soldiers. But a portion of the police, about 26,000 of them, are trained as SWAT, riot control and counter-terrorism forces. There is also a forensics organization, with 4,000 people. Think “Baghdad: CSI.”

There is a border guard, with 28,000 men, which is more than three times larger than it was during Saddam’s time. There is also an elite force of 500 VIP bodyguards, trained by foreign security firms and pretty good. There are also about 100,000 security guards looking after infrastructure (oil, water, gas, electricity) and another 100,000 Kurdish militiamen who, are technically part of the Iraqi armed forces (and are paid as such). Many of these have received training from American instructors, and have been quite successful in keeping things quiet up north.

There are also a large and growing number of “neighborhood watch” groups supplied by the tribes which supplement local Iraqi Police units.

The National Police (about 20,000) is the only rotten institution. As the war winds down, the Iraqi government should seriously consider disbanding the National Police and restructuring the entire Ministry of Interior.

The Iraqi Police and Army are reasonably good in contrast. The Iraqi Army is perhaps the best Arab military force in the Mid East today. These veterans have considerable experience in counterinsurgency operations. The Army is a multi-sectarian and ethnic force that may be the backbone of any future national government.

The ISF are not as corrupt as during Saddam’s time, in part because of American oversight. It’s still a problem however:

Among the many Iraqi traditions that are still practiced includes kicking back part of your salary and not having to show up for work (except in emergencies), so you can hold another job. It’s also common for criminals or militiamen to join the army or police, and get two paychecks for one job. Double dipping is very popular, as is bribe taking and theft.

This kind of rot takes decades of culture changes to eliminate.