Despite a growing insurgency and increasing sectarian violence in Iraq, President Bush has vowed stay the course until victory is achieved. A key to victory, the President has said, is training Iraqi Security Forces. To see how training is progressing, VOA's Brian Padden recently visited the Zahko Military Academy in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
Before the Iraqi military cadets can lead, they must first learn to follow. Here at the Zahko Military Academy in the Kurdish region of the country, young Iraqis are being trained to march, to shoot, to follow orders and to commit themselves to defending a united Iraq. It is a dangerous occupation. Insurgents have targeted and killed cadets and their families.
Two of the cadets, one Sunni, the other Shi'a, are from Baghdad. They declined to give their names but say neither insurgent attacks nor their ethnic differences will prevent them from serving their country.
"We came here to complete our training, and to serve and protect our country. We see no difference between the factions," said one.
"This academy has taught us to not make any difference between Sunni and Shia, we are here to serve our country," said the other.
This facility is one of three military academies in Iraq that have trained more than 600 cadets. The United States has contributed about $9 million in the past two years to renovate and equip this academy in Zakho.
Sergeant James Evans, a U.S. military adviser, says building a disciplined and effective military begins with well-trained and dedicated officers. "The key to a successful military is to have officers that can leave an academy and take over a company, or a platoon and this is what we are here for, is to set Iraq back on its feet again."
Academy officials say more is needed to turn this fledgling army into a battle ready military force. Lieutenant Abdullah Ramadan says, in addition to more cadets and more advanced weapons, the officers need to believe in themselves.
"It is right that everything has changed and most of the terrorists come to Iraq and they kill civilians, innocent people, child, elderly people. But if I don't defend my country, who will defend our country?" asks the lieutenant.
To win on the battlefield, Lt. Ramadan says, the army and the nation must believe that this idea of a united Iraq is worth fighting and dying for.