New Iraqi army will have Shi'ite majority, but unity in doubt

Thursday, March 11, 2004

BAGHDAD The Iraqi Governing Council has decided that the new Iraqi Army would have a majority of Shi'ite soldiers and officers, far outnumbering Sunnis and Kurds.

U.S. officials said Shi'ites would comprise 54 percent of the 40,000-member military.

The military would comprise three light infantry divisions and be ready by October 2004, Middle East Newsline reported. The army would be composed of 27 battalions, equipped with armored fighting vehicles, artillery and light weapons.

Officials said the military would also consist of 15 percent Sunnis and 12 percent Kurds. Christians and ethnic Turks would comprise the remaining 19 percent of the military.

The Shi'ite majority, officials said, was intentional and meant to reflect the composition of the Iraqi population. Shi'ites also dominate the interim Iraqi ruling council.

Officials said the military's biggest hurdle would be to develop a unified army that crosses ethnic and religious lines. They said tribal loyalties would also constitute a problem, even among Sunni recruits.

Another challenge to the Iraqi military has been maintaining personnel.

Attrition rates have been reported as high as 25 percent despite a $72 per month supplemental for hazardous duty. Initial salaries range from $60 to $180 a month based on rank.

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