Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Wednesday, 15 October 2008 12:51 UK

Iraq's New Model Army

By Hugh Sykes
BBC News, Baghdad

New officers, Joint Staff College, Baghdad (Photograph: Hugh Sykes)

In the auditorium at the Joint Staff College at Camp Rustumiya, Baghdad, 64 new Iraqi army officers gathered for their graduation ceremony.

One by one they marched to the front, stamped to attention and received their new badges, as well as a gift-wrapped mobile telephone.

Chief of Staff Gen Badurkhan Zebari Babakir was there, and with him the commander of the Nato Training Mission in Iraq, Gen Frank Helmick.

Maj Basim (Photograph: Hugh Sykes)
Ex-Republican Guard Maj Basim says the army must work for the people

Gen Babakir told the graduates that the new armed forces were "proud to provide a safe environment for the Iraqi people".

Gen Helmick cautioned the new officers "not to revert back to the way it used to be - but do things they way they should be".

He emphasised an essential difference between the new Iraqi army and the military that served under Saddam Hussein, always fearful of their mercurial leader.

He said officers were now "free to express their opinions, free to suggest better ways of doing things".

I asked the general if he was confident that the new army was ready to take full responsibility for security in Iraq.

"We're not where we want to be," he replied, "and we're not where we need to be, but thank goodness we're not where we used to be."

Trainee officers, Joint Staff College, Baghdad
The next generation of army officers is trained in civics as well as warfare

One of the new officers, Maj Basim, joined the Iraqi army 15 years ago.

He spent the 2003 war in the elite Republican Guard, much of the time in and around Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit.

But now, Maj Basim assured me, "the army works for the people, not against them".

Prof Assam Munad (Photograph: Hugh Sykes)
Prof Munad sees risks in a large disciplined force without civilian control

In addition to military training, the officers have had courses in international relations, human rights and the law. The civics tutor at the staff college is Prof Assam Munad.

As the Iraqi army becomes a large disciplined force, Prof Munad is concerned about the "lack of civilian control" over the military.

"It's very risky," he said, "the army may put their noses into politics - and they shouldn't".

But if they do, there is much better organised potential opposition to the military here than there ever was under the tightly controlled regime of Saddam Hussein.

The Shia militias might see the new well-trained officers as a Trojan Horse - a way of levering supporters of the old regime back into power.

The militias are quiet at the moment, but they have not been disbanded, and if suspicions about the Iraqi army are nourished, it isn't hard to imagine a new phase of violent confrontation.

New officers, Joint Staff College, Baghdad (Photograph: Hugh Sykes)
Officers were told to take pride in bringing security for the Iraqi people

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