Iraqi Army develops the heavy mechanized and armored forces
The Iraqi Government has been ordering substantial numbers of weapons this year. These orders, combined with known training plans, and existing force structure, provide insight into the eventual planned force structure of elements of the Iraqi Security Forces. The Air Force, Iraqi Army light infantry, and light armored forces already have been addressed in The Long War Journal. The focus of this article is on the announced arms purchases and what they indicate for developments in the Iraqi Security Force's heavy mechanized and armored forces.
The three stages of upgrading the Iraqi Security Forces are organized into five-year plans. The first stage started with the establishment of the first elected Iraqi Government in 2006 and it lasts until 2011. Stage 1 is intended to build a basic force. By the end of this stage, the Iraqi Army is apparently planned to be 20 or 21 divisions organized into four corps.
The second stage is to build the forces up in capabilities including independent armored, mechanized, airmobile, naval, and air forces, thus converting the existing basic force into a heavier, more capable force. Stage 2 is set to last from 2011 to 2015. The arms purchases for the beginning of Stage 2 have been and are being announced.
The third stage is to complete the training and improvements. Stage 3 should be thought of as the insurance period for any slippage in training and developing the ISF, such as that caused by a reduced budget due to lower oil prices.
The announced purchase of M1A1M Abrams tanks matches the tank component of four armored battalions based on the organization of the Iraqi Army's 9th Armored Division. Iraqi Army armored battalions are normally composed of 35 tanks and nine BMP1 mechanized infantry combat vehicles. BMP1s are the planned mechanized vehicle component for armored battalions. The current and planned numbers of BMP1s in the Iraqi Army indicate a total of 60 armored battalions are planned.
The Iraqi Army organizes the 9th Armored Division into three armored brigades and a wheeled mechanized reconnaissance brigade. Each of the armored brigades has two armored and one mechanized battalion. Mechanized brigades are a mirror of the armored brigades, they have only one armored battalion for two mechanized battalions. A mechanized division is composed of one armored brigade, two mechanized brigades, and a wheeled mechanized reconnaissance brigade. There are four armored battalions in a mechanized division. While the distribution of M1s and other types of tanks being purchased are undetermined, the purchasing plan of four battalions of M1s per year for five years equates to the tank components for the five planned Iraqi Army mechanized divisions.
To accelerate the formation of the M1 equipped armored battalions, Iraqi Army elements are already being trained on US M1s at the Besmaya Training Range. This training has coincided with the 45th Brigade, 11th Division's training and fielding at Besmaya. The 11th Division already has BMP1s in its inventory, as well as MTLB armored personnel carriers assigned to engineering elements. This indicates 11th Division is first to upgrade to M1 tanks.
Based on already identified future tracked divisions, terrain and potential threat axis, the remaining four planned mechanized divisions are probably going to be in provinces bordering Iran south of the Kurdish Region. The Kurdish Region is too mountainous for practical employment of heavy armor. This means that the planned mechanized divisions are:
• 11th Mechanized Division in Baghdad. (Already using BMP1s and MTLBs.)
• 5th Mechanized Division in Diyala.
• 14th Mechanized Division in Basrah.
• 18th Mechanized Division in Maysan.
• A new mechanized division to be formed in Wassit. (The 8th Commando Division is planned to split off that part of its area.)
There are nine heavy armored or mechanized divisions planned. The 9th Armored Division is already being equipped with T72 tanks and other tanks will probably be used for the three remaining planned armored divisions, independent armor/mechanized brigades, and training establishment. Both of the T55 equipped armored battalions currently in the 9th Armored division will probably transfer to the training establishment with their replacement by NATO-donated T72s. Based on already identified future and existing tracked divisions, terrain, and standard employment patterns, the four armored divisions will be:
• 9th Armored Division in Baghdad. (Upgrading with more T72s from NATO.)
• 3rd Armored Division in Ninawa. (Already using M113s.)
• 7th Armored Division in Anbar. (Already using BMP1s.)
• 10th Armored Division in DhiQar/Muthanna.
Missing from the announced arms purchases are the tanks required for the three projected armored divisions, the corps' four independent armored brigades, and the armored personnel carriers for seven of these armored/mechanized divisions. Previous reporting indicated that the Iraqi Army was to get M60 tanks. The current programs in Europe replacing M60s with Leopards indicate the missing tanks will be M60s from European countries. The US and European programs replacing their M113s indicates the missing armored personnel carriers will be M113s.
These armored and mechanized forces will provide Iraq with a capability to defend itself on the ground against the most likely threats. Nine heavy divisions out of the 20 Iraqi Army divisions may seem heavy, but that is less than a quarter of the total mobilized Iraqi Security Forces. Also, it is a comparable force to Iraq's neighbor and most likely threat, Iran. While Syria is allied with Iran, the majority of Syria's forces and their best armor is not available for an Iraqi fight. Those units are dedicated to the Israeli border.
This is the fourth in a series of articles on Iraqi Security Force components. The first was "Iraq announces plan to expand the Air Force." The second was "Iraq develops its light combat divisions." The third was "Iraqi Army develops its light armored forces."