The Real Surge


Newly graduated soldiers hold up Iraq flags as they march during their graduation ceremony at the Besmaya army camp in Baghdad November 18, 2007. Reuters photo.

While the “surge” of five US brigades plus their accompanying support elements, about 30,000 US troops total, is the main focus of commentators when discussing the current situation in Iraq, the real surge in Iraq is happening behind the scenes. The rapidly expanding Iraqi Army is where the real surge in forces is occurring.

In November 2006, Prime Minister Maliki understated the real surge when he announced the increase of the Iraqi Army beyond the subjective counterinsurgency force. Maliki’s originally announced plan was an increase of the army by three divisions, five brigades, 20 battalions, and an Iraqi Special Operations Force (ISOF) battalion. He also wanted to increase the manning of existing Iraqi units to 110 percent. At that point, the Iraqi Army was 10 divisions, 35 brigades, 102 battalions, and two ISOF battalions. Most Iraqi Army formations were only approximately 65 percent manned at that time.

Over the last year the Iraqi Army has grown to 12 divisions, 41 brigades, 123 battalions, and four ISOF battalions. This is a 20 percent increase in units and a doubling of the ISOF. This does not include the three former strategic infrastructure brigades (17 battalions) that have been transferred to the Iraqi Army and are currently being retrained. While the Iraqi Army officer and NCO ranks remain undermanned, the overall unit manning has grown to 108 percent during that time. This does not mention the steadily increasing Iraqi Army competence that can only come from combat and counterinsurgency experience.

The newly formed Iraqi Army units over the past year include:

Chart showing the progression of the expansion of the Iraqi Army since 2006.

3-9 Tank Brigade – North Baghdad/Strategic Reserve (Deployed to Basrah)

4-9 Light Armored Cavalry Brigade- North Baghdad/Strategic Reserve (Stryker training)

4-4 Brigade – Salahadin

2-14 Brigade – Basrah (originally 5-10 Brigade)

11th Division Headquarters – East Baghdad

3-11 Brigade – Sadr City (Graduated Besmaya on November 18)

2-11 Brigade – East Baghdad (Training at Besmaya)

14th Division Headquarters – Basrah

Two battalions of ISOF (Basrah Battalion and four separate companies)

By the time the US plans to reduce its combat forces to pre-surge levels (July 2008), the real surge is planned to have increased the Iraqi Army to 13 divisions, 49 brigades, 154 battalions, and five or six ISOF battalions. This includes finishing the retraining and equipping of the former Strategic Infrastructure Brigades (SIBs) transferred to the Iraqi Army. The manning of the Iraqi Army is currently planned to reach 120 percent of unit strength by July 2008. From the time the US surge of only five combat brigades was announced to the time it ends, the real surge will have increased the Iraqi Army field forces by 30 percent in divisions, 40 percent in brigades, 50 percent in battalions, and 150 percent in ISOF. In addition the existing Iraqi Army combat unit manning will have increased to 120 percent from the pre-surge level of approximately 65 percent.

The Iraqi Army will field the following units by July 2008:

4-3 Brigade – Southwest Ninawa

4-5 Brigade – Diyala

4-7 Light Armored Cavalry Brigade – Anbar (Rutbah)

3-14 Brigade – Basrah

4-14 Brigade – Basrah

12th Division Headquarters – Tikrit

1-12 Brigade – Western Kirkuk (retrained SIBs)

2-12 Brigade – Northern Salahadin (retrained SIBs)

3-12 Brigade – Southern Salahadin (retrained SIBs)

One or two more battalions of ISOF and ISOF Aviation Squadron

The US is considering plans to draw down to 10 combat brigades by early 2009. The Iraqi Army plans to continue growing to 13 divisions, 52 brigades, 162 battalions, and seven or eight ISOF battalions. This does not include the additional fire support, logistics, and engineer battalions being formed for each brigade. Part of that increase is the 33,000 Iraqi Army support troops that was funded by the US FY07 Supplemental. These additional 33,000 soldiers represent a 250 percent increase over the current 14,000 Iraqi Army support troops. This increased logistics support will allow Iraqi Army units to operate independently and will release US logistics units for redeployment.

The Iraqi Army will field the following units between July 2008 and early 2009:

4-12 Brigade – Salahadin

4-1 Brigade – Eastern Anbar (replacement for redesignated 4-11)

1-10 Brigade – Maysan (possibly DhiQar; replacement for redesignated 3-8)

One or two more battalions of ISOF

One fire support battalion per brigade

Finish adding the engineer regiments to the divisions (three battalions each)

In 2009 the Iraqi Army plans to start forming the 13 divisional field artillery regiments and their 39 subordinate field artillery battalions.

This is the real surge — a surge in training and building of the Iraqi Army. Security in Iraq improves with an increased long-term security presence; a security presence that will increasingly be shouldered by Iraqi troops. The five US surge brigades were not only brought in to buy the Iraqi government time to sort out the political situation, they were brought in to buy the Iraqi Army time to expand. The five US surge brigades are doing some much needed housecleaning in Iraq’s problem areas, freeing up Iraqi Army formations to provide cadre for new forming units, and providing additional training partners for the new Iraqi Army formations thus facilitating the accelerated expansion. The Iraqi Army is replacing the US forces departing Iraqi by the end of 2008 at rate of two Iraqi brigades for one US brigade.

While the surge brigades will eventually depart, the Iraqi Army is not leaving Iraq.



  • elhombrelibre says:

    Great news for those of us who wish to see the US succeed also hope that we’ll come out of Iraq in the near future. The sooner the Iraqi army stands up the better, and we know it’s been working towards eventually replacing the coalition. Also, it’s not often admitted in the US, but the Iraqi army has suffered many more deaths and casualties overall since the “insurgency” began.

  • Hamidreza says:

    DJ – What is the concept behind ISOF? Is it composed mainly of Sunnis? Do Sunnis get to enlist in certain units? Obviously no Sunni wants to be posted in Basrah, or Shiite in Ramadi. So is there a regional flavor to the IA? And what about the Kurds? What is stopping former Baathist officers from joining the army?

  • DJ,
    Fantastic piece here! Not only great news but so well documented. It is powerful how the security bridge by U.S. surge troops have created this environment for the IA numbers to soar.
    It’s amazing how many news bulletins you read now that mention that the Iraqi Army is responsible for the desired action.
    Thanks for this – I did trackback on it over at:
    And great questions from Hamidreza…I too would like to know if the IA has brigades by sect or region.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Hamidreza; Fight4TheRight:
    – What is the concept behind ISOF?
    2nd CT Bn is the IA Delta Force equivalent, The Cdo Bns are Ranger equivalents. The plan is to base a Cdo Bn in each of the six IA Corps sectors (probably grow to Bde each). Only combat experienced personnel need apply. 3% passed the last 90 day course to become members of 2nd CT Bn (36 of 1200).
    – Is it composed mainly of Sunnis?
    Originally formed from a Kurdish and a Shia bn. Recruits from all IA combat experienced and is ethinically mixed. Strong Kurdish influence.
    – Do Sunnis get to enlist in certain units?
    Normal procedure is not to assign personnel to home areas so as to prevent personal conflict.
    While personnel in the regular IA can chose where they are assigned for their first two years, ISOF and personnel beyond that are assigned as needed. Intention is to mix all IA formations.
    – Obviously no Sunni wants to be posted in Basrah, or Shiite in Ramadi. So is there a regional flavor to the IA?
    Some regional flavor due to the original ING recruiting policies and the first two year rule. That is slowly being changed. The IA is trying to avoid regional armies and is mixing forces as much as possible. The IP is where you find local recruiting as the norm.
    – And what about the Kurds?
    Over 45,000 Kurds are serving in the IA. Due to the method of forming the 2nd and 4th IA are half Kurdish. (2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 10th Divs were recruited locally when first formed.) While 8th and 10th Divs are mostly shia. As mentioned, the ISOF has a strond Kurdish influence.
    – What is stopping former Baathist officers from joining the army?
    It is an all volunteer army. They do not have to join if they do not want to.
    All IA officers above the rank of Raaed (Major) are former officers from the old Iraqi Army. About 20 percent of the old Army officers that apply to the new IA are accepted. Many cannot pass medical, security screening, were just not competent, were known to be corrupt, or do not make it thru retraining. Those that come in are either accepted or pensioned.
    Over 900 Mi17 pilots, engineers and tech officers are on waiting lists to rejoin the IZAF which is why the IZAF is buying Mi17s for primary helo…

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Order of Battle 101, aye aye (General and US centric; each country has its own varients)
    – Army Group – 2 or 3 Corps
    – Corps – 2 to 5 Divisions
    – (USMC MEF is a varying sized 1-2 Div plus air wing size task organization)
    – Division – 3 to 5 Brigades
    – Brigades – 2 to 5 Battalions (note: this is where it gets wierd) or USMC – 1 to 2 RCT and an Air Group
    – Regiment – Same as an Army Brigade. Used by US Army as administrative organization.
    – Battalion/Squadron – 3-5 Companies
    – Company/Battery/Troop – 3-5 Platoons
    – Platoons – 2-4 sections or squads
    – Sections or squads – 2-4 Fire Teams
    – Fire Team – 3-5 personnel
    “4-2 SBCT.” = 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
    “Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, the top noncommissioned officer of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis, Wash., speaks to Soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment Nov. 5 in Baqouba, Iraq. The brigade is in the process of expanding into Diyala province. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Bassett.”
    Would you please break this down for me?
    = Company C, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment of 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
    = or 1-38IN/4-2SBCT
    Are there typically gaps in the sequence of number identifiers of military groupings such as “38th Regiment”?
    – US Regimental and Division IDs are traditional historical. The numbering has gaps all over.
    (E.G. If someone said 1st Division in Iraq, I would ask which one? US 1st Marine Division, US 1st Cavelry Division, US 1st Infantry Division, US 1st Armored Division, IA 1st Division, or INP 1st Division?)
    Also, as I understand it, at the height of the “surge” there were 20 US brigades, approximately 160,000 personnel, in Iraq. Thus (dividing 160, 000 by 20) it appears that a brigade contains approximately 8,000 personnel. Is this how to look at the numbers?
    – NO. Brigades are ~3,500 each. The other 90,000 is support troops. That is why the IA quadrupling their support force is a verry big deal. We provide that for now…

  • Howard Veit says:

    This piece is typical of the gobldegoop and deliberate confusion you guys have been peddling for decades. I don’t care how many “brigades,” divisions, or whatever you claim are out there. A brigade contains almost whatever number of troops you want it to number. Same for divisions I remember one time in Nam where I read in the Stars and Stripes that two divisions were lined up against us when the truth was that no more than 500 actual troops were out there in separate units.
    Like exact numbers. Jesus, no wonder nobody believes what is told them by the military. BTW, the same can be said for “squadrons,” fleets, armadas and so on. Then there is the number of tanks, heavy or light artillery, and the number of troop carriers are involved. 100,000 what? Camel jockeys on foot or actual guys equipped with modern weapons they actually know how to use?
    That deliberate obfuscation is why the New York Times is believed. What is the difference between their spin and your spin?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Howard Veit:
    Standard TO/E for IA Bn is 759,
    120% manning = 911.
    IA Bdes are being standardized at 3 Bns and BSTB per Bde (~3,000 without fire support Bn), 4 Bdes per division. They are being organized on the US model and overmanned at 120%. That makes them comparible sized formations.
    Are some Bdes different, yes.
    No two formations in any army are the same, just as no two people are.
    – The 4-6 IA Bde is 5000 men (5 Bns). I expect that to change as they split off cadre for new units.
    – The new formed 3-11 is reported at only 110% or 2700 strong.
    – When they add the FA to the Bdes they will be ~3,500.
    – US Bdes vary from 3-4,000.
    If you want to rant and rave, you might want to research first. Otherwise you prove the old adage: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

  • ECH says:

    I have long thought the Iraqi Army has the power to deal with any of the insurgent groups or militias in Iraq in a straight up fight.
    But, what I really wonder is if the US is forced out of Iraq in the next two to three years by U.S. politicians if the Iraqi Army will be strong enough to prevent the Iranian Army from entering southern Iraq to “protect” the Shia and the Turks invading the north at the same time.
    Will the Iraqi Army be strong enough to keep the regional powers at bay?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    “Will the Iraqi Army be strong enough to keep the regional powers at bay?”
    That is the real question. I suspect that the IA will start another round of expansion after they get the Divisional FA Rgts formed in 2009. I see them needing 20 active Divisions (~15,000 each) and a reserve component. Long border with Iran…
    And the Iraqi Air Force will not be ready for 5-10 years…

  • Richard1 says:

    We hear about Iraqi troops not being deployed and just sitting around. Is there any truth to this?

  • Cordell says:

    Thanks DJ for your insights here. The average mainstream media reporter seems to miss the growth and improvement of the Iraqi Army when questioning the sustainability of any gains produced by the U.S. troop surge.
    Overall, the picture you present is one of a new — and potentially, key — U.S. Middle East ally growing rapidly in strength and capability. Except for the Republican Guard units, the Iraqi Army under Saddam was mostly a rag-tag, poorly trained and equipped lot as the Gulf War revealed.
    Do you think this growing strength is the primary reason Iran appears to be backing away from its support for Iraq’s militant extremists and terrorists as some reports indicate lately? (I have read several reports of Sunni IA officers angered by Tehran’s meddling in Iraq who express the wish to aid a future U.S. attack on Iran.) Secondly, if this strength has altered Iranian policy towards Iraq, does this mean that the Iraq War has crossed the tipping point towards an irreversible victory over AQ and Shia extremists?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Just like any army, the IA varies.
    It has its skates, just like the ones I had to find and put back to work throughout my 22 years in the USN.
    No grouping of people (or individual) in the world is perfect.
    60% of the US Army in Iraq are fobbits.
    They do not patrol outside the FOB…
    The same is not true of the IA, but, will be as they replace our supply support with their own.
    The press normally only reports the problems, not the successes.
    When was the last time the press reported on the airliners that did not crash?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    – Saddam’s Army did not even have a bootcamp. Its enlisted were untrained cannonfodder.
    Do you think this growing strength is the primary reason Iran appears to be backing away from its support for Iraq’s militant extremists and terrorists as some reports indicate lately?
    – Not just Sunni…
    – The Iranians cannot like the idea of an IA voluntary army trained to US standards.
    They failed to defeat Saddam in 8 years. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranians fought Saddam’s WWII tactics with WWI tactics and lost.
    In the Kuwait fight we demonstrated WWIII tactics.
    In 2003, we demonstrated WWIV tactics.
    – The new IA is being trained at our level. E.G. To join the IA you have to read and write. Saddam did not require that…
    Secondly, if this strength has altered Iranian policy towards Iraq, does this mean that the Iraq War has crossed the tipping point towards an irreversible victory over AQ and Shia extremists?
    – I give it a Probable. (Possible is defined as 30-35%. Probable is defined as 65-70%. Intel definitions.)

  • Paul says:

    Yes. Very informative and encouraging developments.
    This may be a bit off topic, but I wonder how the surge in IA numbers and competence will affect what appears to be a worsening situation in Afghanistan.

  • Paul says:

    Actually, I think a better question is: Are the Iraqi SOF in a position to replace what I believe were our SF hunter/killer teams from Afghanistan?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    The training pipeline for ISOF is long. You cannot train them overnight and US/UK SOF will continue to provide MiTT support for that into the next two-three years.
    Remember that they started 2007 with two Bns (1600 pers) and are now four Bns (3400) and authorized to grow to seven. It will be end-2008 when they get to seven and they will need the US/UK MiTTs assistance. Especially since I expect that seven Bns to be half of what is planned…

  • DJ Elliott says:

    And even then, there will be ops where we are unwilling to share intel that our SOF will have to do the job. There is some intel that we do not share with any other country….

  • the nailgun says:

    DJ – call me the eternal optimist but do you think there is any possiblity we might even see some IA in Afghanistan in say 18 months time? Now THAT would be the ultimate humiliation to AQ and Bin Laden!

  • DJ Elliott says:

    I would laugh except, some GoI continue to suggest the same idea. It is more likely than the proposal that Iraq join NATO (both are still circulating).
    If they do it, it will be only one or two battalions. And it would need support help since Iraq would not be able to spare aviation or supply.

  • Bombing In Baghdad: Gray Lady Giddy

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    Last Friday, the Ghazil animal market was a crowded bazaar in a city willing it…

  • Turner says:

    Thanks DJ:
    I still struggle with “mil-speak,” so I appreciate the lesson. I’ll study your lists, do some math and, hopefully. some of it will stick. Thanks also for the following through with the Q&A. I learned even more from that.
    One thing I had wondered is if Saddam had a 1/2 million man army, why is it so hard to rebuild? Now I think I get it. I had wondered if maybe the political will wasn’t there, but it sounds like maybe they were just really that bad. Yeah?
    From what you’re describing, the IA may come to play a leadership role in projecting aspirations of excellence for the rest of the country. Do you think that’s “possible” or “probable” ?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    “mil-speak” is a generic term for the dialects used by each service and even branches of the services. If you didn’t have trouble with it, it would be surprising.
    Old joke about the services not speaking the same language.
    Tell them to “secure the building”.
    – Army will post guards and control access.
    – Marines will launch an air-ground assault.
    – Navy will turn out the lights and lock the doors.
    – Air Force will get a 3 year lease.
    – Coast Guard will get a 5 year lease with an option to buy.
    The competant elements of the old Iraqi Army were regularly purged. They posed a threat to Saddam’s regiem. That type of incentive tends to destroy initiative and aggressiveness. Both of which are manditory for a high quallity military. That is what is known as the “Dictator’s Delema”. You need a strong army yet that army posses a threat to your rule…
    By 2003 they were that bad. Of the 23 divisions, we fought elements of six. Two others surrendered after Baghdad fell (they were 20% manned). The rest deserted…
    Most armies play a leadership role in their countries. Even the bad ones…

  • ajacksonian says:

    When looking historically at US forces to stand up a competent and trustworthy fighting force, the measure has been the strength of the NCO Corps. In most Arab armies (and the ME more generally) the problem has been described by de Atkine prior to the first Gulf War that ‘Armies fight as they train’ and that the training of Arab armies has been:
    “Training tends to be unimaginative, cut and dried, and not challenging. Because the Arab educational system is predicated on rote memorization, officers have a phenomenal ability to commit vast amounts of knowledge to memory. The learning system tends to consist of on-high lectures, with students taking voluminous notes and being examined on what they were told. (It also has interesting implications for a foreign instructor, whose credibility, for example, is diminished if he must resort to a book.) The emphasis on memorization has a price, and that is in diminished ability to reason or engage in analysis based upon general principles. Thinking outside the box is not encouraged; doing so in public can damage a career. Instructors are not challenged and neither, in the end, are students.”
    Saddam’s army typified this, to the point of utter degradation of the conscript troops. There was no investment in personnel, esprit de corps or in trusting the NCOs to properly communicate orders to the troops. In that trusted position, and most vital between the common soldier and the officers, the individuals got those positions not by merit, but by nepotism, brutality or ability to just purchase it. The measure of the New Iraqi Army is two-fold: their ability to build and maintain a trusted NCO Corps, and the internal military justice system to support equality of application across all ranks. Even Turkey has problems with this, so Iraq being able to get to something as good or *better* would be an unknown in the ME outside of Israel.
    Personally I support a cross-training between Iraq and Afghanistan, because of the necessities of mountain warfare that breeds endurance, stamina, toughness and a level of operational capability that allows mountain warfare units to punch far above their weight class in traditional combat. One of the tricks of Afghanistan is that most of their combat units are highly skilled mountain warfare troops, which means they expect… no demand… a high level of unit independence to reach goals and exceed that of lowland counterparts. While the mountains in Iraq are good for some of this, nothing is equal to endurance training and combat where vehicles lose 20% of their power due to lack of oxygen. When parts of 10MD were deployed in Iraq, they have demonstrated competence and endurance far beyond their ‘light infrantry’ classification. Moving the Kurd heavy ISOF into such training (and allowing distant cultural ties to be re-established) would give Iraq a COIN capability in mountainous terrain that would back up remote observation by UAVs. Similarly, the Afghan form of fighting from tribal basis is different than that in the lowland regions of the ME, and learning to understand strengths/weaknesses of both which is a long term COIN advantage for them, also. Those ancient warrior based cultural ties are something we do not readily appreciate, in the West, and yet may prove another way to outmanuever and out-think terrorists by getting culturally savvy folks to realize just what a threat terrorism is beyond just immediate ethnic factors.
    That is, at best, a decade or so to be made and there is a lot of time between now and then… first the NCO and justice system… then more when Iraq is capable and if they want to do so. From what I have seen the Kurds, at least, will want that.

  • Turner says:

    Bill once deleted a post of mine from this site probably because it seemed too political. It stung a little, but reading the reader’s postings today helps me appreciate the fruits of that. Because the rules forbid descending into political arguments, today’s postings and responses have brought out some things I couldn’t have learned in any other media.
    Today, I broke down and made my PayPal donation to PMI. Hope others are doing the same.
    Thanks guys.

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