“More are on the way”

The question of the readiness of the Iraqi Army to take a major role in fighting the insurgency is often asked, and reports from the media have been less than helpful in answering this question. As we have seen, the mantra from the professional media has been that ‘few Iraqi Army units are fully operational’ and therefore the Iraqi Army is not engaged in the fight against the insurgency. The number often given is 3 battalions that are ‘fully operational’; leading the reader to believe the Iraqi Army is nowhere near ready with entering the fight.

This characterization is both misleading and wrong. As discussed in Training the Iraqi Army and Few Iraqi Battalions Are Operational?, the media’s definition of operational does not square with the military definition. Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service nicely details the readiness of the Iraqi Security Forces, and explains “More than 110 Iraqi battalions are involved in the fight against terrorists” at varying degrees of participation.

The readiness of the Iraqi Security Forces is broken down into “six different areas: personnel, command and control, training and mission-essential tasks, sustainment, equipment, and leadership. Different readiness levels indicate different capabilities.” These levels of readiness are described as such:

• Level 1 is the highest rating, where units are fully independent in all aspects. This includes being able to plan and conduct operations without coalition support. It also means the units sustain themselves through their own systems, handle all maintenance and have every piece of equipment needed to perform any mission.

• Level 2 means units that are “in the lead” in the counterinsurgency effort. The units plan and execute their own operations, but they do require coalition support. This support is typically logistics, close-air support, indirect fire, medical evacuation and so on.

• Level 3 indicates units fighting alongside coalition units. An Iraqi company will be embedded with a coalition battalion. The company gets support from the coalition and operates with the battalion.

• Level 4 indicates units just forming.

Iraqi units fighting in operations along the Euphrates River in the Anbar Campaign are currently at Level 3 status, meaning there is much room for improvement in their ability to operate freely.

Mr. Garamone proceeds to explain where the Iraqi units fall on the level of readiness scale. Most are at Level 3. Note that the deficiencies reported are those of logistics, not of fighting capabilities or morale (it should also be noted that media reports of the poor morale and fighting capabilities of the Iraqi soldier have fallen to the wayside of late). This squares with Austin Bay’s perceptions of the situation.

There are very few Iraqi units in Level 1 status. Most units have been in existence only four to six months. The ministries of Defense and Interior will need more time to develop supply systems, maintenance depots, finance systems, personnel assignment procedures and so on.

Officials speaking on background said there are many Iraqi units capable of “fully independent operations, but not yet fully independent.” They said nearly three dozen Iraqi army or police units are assessed as in the lead or independent – Levels 1 and 2. The bulk of the units are in Level 3 – fighting alongside coalition units.

Units are working in a variety of environments. There are 20 Iraqi special police and army battalions conducting operations in Ninewah province. A total of 13 battalions are operating in Anbar province.

And more are on the way. Coalition officials in Baghdad said that 15 more combat battalions will complete their training and deploy before the constitutional referendum Oct. 15.

The last two paragraphs are critical to understanding the force distributions of the Iraqi Army and the potential to expand into the unsecured provinces. At this time 33 of Iraq’s 110 battalions (one third of the current strength) are deployed in the Ninewah and Anbar provinces, the two most violent regions in Iraq (Ninewah being the province in the northwest corner of Iraq where Mosul and Tal Afar are located). Only 13 battalions are currently in Anbar, the most dangerous province in Iraq. The Iraqi Army has yet to even meet its full potential in projecting combat power.

Fifteen battalions are coming online, and while their deployment locations are not specified, their likely destinations are Ninewah and Anbar. Couple this with the freed US units due to Iraqi forces taking charge of security in less active areas, and a dramatic increase in Coalition forces to tackle the insurgency along the Euphrates River looks to be on the near horizon. Think late summer or early fall.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • GK says:

    Questions :
    1) Is the goal of the US to get the majority of Iraqi units up to Level 1 or Level 2 status? Would that, by definition, make the Iraqi army, on a person by person basis, much more capable than the armies of Syria or Iran?
    2) What is the total desired size of the Iraqi Army? 500,000? 750,000? What would be the percentage breakdown of Level 1, 2, 3, and 4, in that at the time we would consider our goal to be achieved?
    3) When you say 15 new battalions are coming online, does that mean the total is going from 110 to 125? If so, how many total battalions will there be at the time of full self-sufficiency?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    1) Yes, Level 1 or Level 2 status is obviously desired.
    2) My understanding is the size of the IA when completed will be 270,000. Can’t answer the second part, just not enough information.
    3) A good question. My reading of this is the 15 new battalions are ones going from level 4 (training) to level 3, and will be 15 additional battalions. Remember, the 110 battalions are the ones “in the fight”.

  • CF says:

    From what I have read the stated goal for Iraqi security force strength is 273,000. Iraqi Security Forces is an all inclusive term for Iraqi armed forces, national guard, police and border patrol. If you go to the Brookings Institute or the website for the MNF (Multi-National Force) you can read up more on the ever changing Iraqi troop strength estimates.

  • GK says:

    Is it just 3 battalions that are Level 1? Are the remaining 107 Level 2 and 3?
    How many personnel are in a battalion, btw?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    CF is correct, it would hav ebeen more accurate for me to have said ISF rather than IA in the comments (to my credit I did the correctly in the post…)
    The article says “nearly three dozen Iraqi army or police units are assessed as in the lead or independent – Levels 1 and 2.” The breakdown between L1 and L2 is not given, but in my opinion, for the purposes of fighting the insurgency it is not all that important.

  • GK says:

    OK, so from what I see :
    ~35 units are Level 1 or Level 2
    ~75 units are Level 3
    ~15 are Level 4 about to become Level 3 and come online.
    How many personnel are in an average battalion, BTW? How wide is the range of sizes?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I missed the size question… If my memory is correct, about 800 per infantry battalion (I imagine the police and commando units will vary in size).
    Global Security has a good primer on this. Warning: I read this a while back and have not checked to see if it is up to date.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    I’ll add my two cents.
    Prior to June 2004, the size of the Iraqi Security forces estimated to be required were 180,000. Which roughly translates into the same number proportion of police as London(3 per thousand) plus and equal number of Army.
    Post June 2004, the estimated security requirements were increased to 135,000 police plus 135,000 Army. This would be similar to the New York City police ratios.
    In terms of the size of the Army, it will be considerably smaller than Iran,Syria,Egypt or Saudi Arabia and generally in line with the proportion of soldiers to citizens found in most democratic countries.
    IMHO based on observation of many mixed reports, the Iraqi security forces are reasonably effective when they are deployed in areas of sufficient population to warrant a force of 1,000 plus security forces. In those areas in the Sunni triangle where the population warrants fewer than 1,000 forces, the terrorists have been fairly successful in intimidating the forces.(The NY Times had a big article about the performance of Iraqi security forces in Baiji which is a relatively small town in the Sunni Triangle, the same was found to be true in Tal Afar,AlQiam and Rawah).
    I would expect to see over the next few months, a significant shift of US troops away from high population areas into less and less densely population areas.
    The example being the fact that uS troops are being parked in places like Rawah(pop 24,000) and Sinjar(pop 8,000).

  • Brad says:

    There is another area I think might be misleading as far as ‘operationally capable’ goes. The US military goes through several training phases, such as (circa 2003) Special Operations Capable qualification for our Marine Expeditionary Forces, so 31st MEU (SOC), ie can work with the SEALS, or SOCOM. Flight crews have to keep current, every year, every quarter, sometimes monthly on their training regimens.
    I have no doubt the US has set the bar fairly low for the Iraqis, but by the US standards, a substantial portion of our military could be combat un-qualified. Enough equivocation; Level I training is combat independence in urban terrain, which requires considerably more intensive training than most other types of warfare. I’d presume every Level I battalion would be able to piggyback a Level II battalion.

  • Brad says:

    Bill, consider a hypothetical.
    The Iraqi Army stands up 80% of its troops to Level II, the rest to Level I. In other words, the Iraq Army is more or less complete.
    What do we keep over there? What airbases, where, and how do we go about equipping an infantry heavy military to defend its interests against Iran and Syria (and plausibly in the North, Turkey)? What about an air force?
    It seems certain that the Iraqi Army will be stood up within the year or two, but heavy weapons will take some time, as will logistics and so on. The infrastructure is direly brutalized from nearly two decades of hostilities.

  • GK says:

    Well, the main use of the Iraqi military would continue to be the fighting of insurgents and foreign terrorists that have entered Iraq.
    An actual state-run invasion by Iran is not a near-term threat, as the US would not permit it and ensure Iraq’s defense (and even regime change in Iran). Syria is not large enough to invade and occupy Iraq in the first place, so the extent of their threat might already be peaking.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    Major K has a good post on progress in Baghdad. He has just been reassigned to the Iraqi Division Headquarters for Baghdad.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Thanks, SD, excellent.

  • Dina says:

    I think it’s important for the new upcoming Republican administration, as the Bush admin winds up and the new candidates line up, that the American people don’t want someone who’s going to flake out and leave a job unfinished so that it comes back to bite us in the ass again and again and again.. but someone who understands how important it is to stay the course. We can always bicker between us about abortion rights and whatnot – but if America falls under fascist rule, those issues will no longer matter.

  • CK says:

    Just an interesting side note on Iraq’s growing abilities, a new Iraq Armored Division is just beginning as well. They just received the first shipment of 5 refurbished T-72 tanks. The tanks were in mothballs in Hungary and were donated to Iraq. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense then signed a refurbishment contract with Defense Solutions. Here is the article:

  • Iraqi divisional HQ takes charge

    The 6th Division Assumes Authority: The baby steps continue in the process to build Iraq’s new army. This is the sort of thing that gets totally overlooked while the hand-wringers go on and on about…


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram