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Tuesday, May 3, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Iraqis gets crash course on U.S. M-198 howitzers

BAGHDAD — Iraq has been training on its first U.S.-origin artillery systems.


The Iraq Army has absorbed the first shipments of U.S.-origin 155mm artillery platforms. In April, the Army acquired the M-198 howitzer, with a range of 18 kilometers and also supplied to the Lebanese, Moroccan, Saudi Arabian and Tunisian militaries.

"We got the guns in on Sunday [April 10]," U.S. Army instructor Lt. Adam Thompson recalled. "After two straight weeks of theory and class work, they [Iraqi cadets] were chomping at the bit to actually work with these weapons systems."

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The U.S. military has been sponsoring an eight-week training course on the M-198 at the Iraq Army base in Kirkush. This marked the first shipment of modern artillery to the post-Saddam army, which until now was limited to mortar and infantry weapons.

"The addition of a weapons system and the needed training is huge for these guys," Capt. Lance Magill, a training team chief, said. "It will give them the capability to fire indirect fire with a large caliber weapon out to about 18 kilometers."

The M-198, produced by Rock Island, has been deployed with the Iraq Army's 5th Division, 20th Light Battery Brigade. Officials said the training course has sought to squeeze in practical instruction in an effort to prepare Iraqi soldiers for field exercises. They said the first three weeks of the course was devoted to theory.

"We want this training to go a long way in helping to establish an Iraqi Army NCO corps that can take this knowledge and be the keepers of it for what will hopefully be many future field artillery regiments," U.S. Army Maj. Jackie Kaina said.

Officials said a small group of Iraqi soldiers would be selected to become instructors of the M-198, a medium-towed platform produced for the U.S. Army in the 1970s. They said U.S. instructors have divided cadets into separate crews, including section chief, gunner, assistant gunner and ammunition team chief.

"The training is good," an Iraq Army artillery platoon leader, identified only as Lt. Faisal, said. "The U.S. training team is professional and they know their job well."

At the end of the course, scheduled for early June, cadets would stage a live-fire artillery exercise. Officials said additional M-198s, which could be dropped by parachute or transported by a heavy-lift helicopter, could then be delivered to Baghdad.

"By making them the experts on something like a weapon system, you give them ownership of that knowledge," Kaina said. "They will know that M-198 system better than anyone else, and that is how our NCOs operate."

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