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.
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