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Iraqi Academy Educating Future Leaders


In Iraq, rebuilding efforts are not limited to infrastructure and government. The country is also looking for military leaders to assume responsibility for the nations security from coalition forces.

At the Zahko Military Academy, Iraq's future officers are being put through their paces.

The academy is one of three in Iraq that is training young men to lead the nations nascent security forces.

U.S. military commanders have said they hope to train 137,000 Iraqi troops by the end of this year as the foundation of the U.S. plan to transfer security to Iraq's new government.

Part of that effort is evident here at Zahko. The United States has contributed about nine million dollars in the past two years to renovate and expand the academy's facilities, including adding a new gymnasium, mess hall, rappelling tower and language laboratory.

U.S. military officials play an advisory role at the academy and have been helping Iraqi military officials improve the quality of their instruction and standardize their teaching methods with the curriculum at Iraq's other two officer academies.

The Zahko academy, located in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, was opened in 1997 to train Kurdish peshmerga fighters. After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the regional government opened the school up to all Iraqis and now about one-third of its cadets are Arabs.

General Shahib is the commandant of the Zahko academy. He says the last two classes have included cadets from all over Iraq.

The general is especially proud that while much of the country is succumbing to sectarian and ethnic violence, there is no animosity among the cadets. He says the friendship is stronger between Kurdish and Arab cadets than between Arabs and Arabs and Kurds and Kurds.

As Iraq rebuilds its military, many of the new officers are coming from Saddam Hussein's old army. General Shahib says most officers over the rank of Captain are from the old Iraqi military. Before being recommissioned, they undergo a screening process and take a six-week training course.

Currently, there are 620 cadets enrolled at the academy, and that number is expected to eventually grow to about 900. Most of the cadets are between 18 and 23 years of age and have secondary school educations. Officer training lasts for one year.

Kameron is a cadet from the mostly Kurdish city of Irbil. He says he wants to be an officer because Iraq needs a strong army to stop the terrorists.

Alan is from the ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk. He says despite the heat, the cadets feel good and train a lot in the hope that they will become the best officers in Iraq.

Training is rigorous. Cadets are up at 6 a.m. and have four hours of training before breakfast. Afterwards, their day is spent in the classroom and outside practicing military skills. Sports are left for the late afternoon, and then it is time for dinner, some studying and lights out at 11:30 p.m.

Their instructors are proud of them. Captain Sroud says he is very happy when he sees the students study at the academy and then go on to serve in all parts of Iraq.

In the meantime, it is back to the field for these young men, as they practice to become warriors and leaders of the new Iraq.

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