Iraqi Force Developments and Sensationalistic Press Reporting

Iraqi Army tanks on patrol near Taji. Click to view.

Recent press reporting of the status of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) development has done more to illustrate reporters’ and editors’ lack of understanding on the subject than it has to inform.

Below are two case studies highlighting what the press is missing as new Iraqi Army, police forces and other security units are built.

Case study # 1

A Los Angeles Times article says the following:

“Buried in the latest Defence Department quarterly report on Iraq is the disclosure that the Baghdad government is now responsible for setting the size of its security forces, and that it has authorised a level of 550,000 military and police forces – an increase of more than 40 per cent over the level that the US-led coalition reported just three months ago.”

The LA Times is implying that this information is a surprise and somehow an indication of problems with the development of the ISF.

This is not the case. The problem is that the LA Times is discovering 15 months late that Iraq is a sovereign country and makes decisions about its own security forces. The Times has finally read last month’s report past the summary and reported some of it in an article, “Baghdad now responsible for size of security force.”

Baghdad’s expanded role actually started with the Iraqi planning prior to the announcement of the Prime Minister’s expansion initiative in November 2006. This is when the Iraqi Government announced it was adding, at Iraqi expense, three divisions, five brigades, 20 battalions, and an Iraqi Special Operations Force (ISOF) battalion to the Iraqi Army (IA). All of this has been explained repeatedly in press briefings and was in the previous four reports to Congress.

In 2007, the planned expansion standardized the IA at four brigades to the division and three line battalions to the brigade, adding two peshmerga divisions and five ISOF battalions. Additionally, there are indications that a 16th division is being established south of Baghdad where Major General Lynch needs seven more Iraqi Army battalions to join the 8th IA Division and the oversized 4-6 IA Brigade (five battalions). The Iraqis currently plan an army with at least 16 IA regular divisions, 65 brigades, and 195 battalions. In addition, the ISOF is splitting off from the IA and expanding to at least three brigades (probably six or seven). US-driven force planning for IA development stopped at the objective counter-insurgency force of 10 divisions, 35 brigades, 112 battalions, and two ISOF battalions. This objective was achieved at the end of 2006. Even now, the US part of the ISF budget ($3 billion of the $12 billion currently allocated this year by US and Iraq) is primarily for the continued development of the missing support elements of the objective counter-insurgency forces.

In August 2007, The Long War Journal’s five-year estimate on the needed ISF force was for 20 standardized IA active divisions. Since then, that estimate has increased to 22 IA Divisions organized into seven corps.

Case Study #2

Other press reporting has fixated on the Iraqi Minister of Defense’s statements during a visit to the US. Among the articles with this theme is a New York Times piece, “Iraq defense minister sees need for U.S. until 2018.”

The press is implying that somehow the development of the Iraqi Army is too slow. In telling this story, reporters reveal an ignorance of what is required to build a military force and the realistic force planning factors that a military planner must work with.

The Iraqi Minister of Defense did not say anything that has not been repeatedly briefed by both Iraqi and US military officials and was expressing a minimum timeline for Iraqi force development. The 2018 date is based on the planned and publicly discussed formation of the Iraqi Air Force, which is not expected to get fighter aircraft until 2011 at the earliest. This would be the start of Air Force air defense capabilities. This is only the start. The Defense Minister’s 2009-2012 date for the Iraqi Army to take over security is based on the already publicized fact that the current IA has yet to amass the artillery, air defense, and logistics units sufficient to defend against an external threat. The logistics deficiencies and the lack of trained and experienced officers and NCOs is driving the Minister of Defense’s 2009-2012 security estimate and is slowing down the formation of new units. The first fires brigade support battalions and the divisional field artillery regiments are to start forming in 2009 while the logistics elements are in formation.

When looking at what is needed for a country’s military organization, there are two overriding factors. They are, first, the possible threats and, second, how much force can that country field and support with the budget, manpower, and resources available. This is based on the country’s estimate of the situation, perceptions, and the potential threats. Many of the US’ current allies have been enemies and most of the US’ current enemies have been allies at one time. Planning by a prudent defense minister will look at potential hostile capabilities more than intentions because intentions can change quickly, but changes in capability take time and are much easier to measure.

Threat or the second rule of warfare: “Know your enemy” or potential enemies.

The principal role of the Ministry of Defense is external threats. Internal is a secondary function. From an Iraqi Defense Minister’s perspective, the potential external threats, allies, and neutrals he has to plan for are (in ascending order of capability): Jordan, Gulf Community Council (GCC), Turkey, Iran/Syria, and the United States/NATO.

• Jordan has a only five-division armor heavy force but it is more than capable of defeating the current IA if they were on their own and Jordan abandoned security on its other borders. However, Jordan borders Israel, Syria, and Saudi Arabia in addition to Iraq and would be unlikely to send a concentrated force against Iraq because that would open the Jordanians to the other potential threats. Jordanian “volunteers” manned two Iraqi brigades during the Iran-Iraq war; if Iraq were to get into another fight with Iran, Jordan might assist again. Iraq has good relations with Jordan at this time.

• Gulf Community Council can field only approximately five division equivalents, and they are an armor heavy force. That armor, the GCC’s capable air forces, and its functional artillery and support forces make the GCC a force capable of defeating the current Iraqi Army, if the IA were on its own. The GCC’s principal land borders (potential threat axes) are with Yemen, Jordan, and Iraq. The frontiers with Iraq and the water frontier with Iran are where the GCC’s main forces are positioned. In a fight with Iran, the GCC could be turned into an ally. Iraq is working to improve relations with the GCC.

• Turkey has the second largest army in NATO, after the US. Turkish forces are more than capable of defeating the current IA. The only weaknesses that Turkey would face in such an endeavor are the limited road accesses and rugged terrain that have facilitated the continued existence of the anti-Turkey terrorist group PKK for decades. Despite the thorn of the PKK in Iraq, Iraqi relations with Turkey have been good.

• Iran and Syria are the major potential conventional threats that can be effectively dealt with only if the Iraqi military is expanded and upgraded. Iran fields two separate armies totaling at least 44 divisions on mobilization. Its tank force is estimated at 1,800-3,000 operational tanks and its air force has 200-300 operational combat aircraft. The current 149 Iraqi tanks and their infantry divisions would be a speed bump for the Iranian forces if Iraq were on its own. Syria is formally allied with Iran but, with most of its forces and logistics network focused on Israel and Lebanon, could provide only one or two additional mechanized divisions if it joined in an Iranian attack on Iraq. Iraq is working to improve relations with both countries.

• United States/NATO as an enemy is the nightmare scenario. Iraq on its own could not stop this potential threat. Fortunately from a threat perspective, the US and NATO tend to be isolationist, do not readily enter into offensive operations against other countries, and are allied or on good terms at this point. Unfortunately, NATO is not officially an Iraq ally and the US has an uneven track record as an ally going back to when President Washington refused to honor the US-French mutual defense treaty.

Iraqi Army force status or the first rule of war: Know yourself.

The Iraqi Army has developed into an effective counter-insurgency force but its logistics elements are a work in progress and the overall force is deficient in most of the capabilities needed for defense against an external enemy. Its leadership is still under strength and the continuing expansion has exacerbated this shortage. It still lacks major components needed for an effective conventional army capable of dealing with the most likely enemy (Iran). Those missing components are expanded logistics, armor, artillery, air defense, engineers, additional combat divisions, a reserve, and a combat-capable air force.

• Logistics: Armies travel on their stomachs. The Iraqi Army is in the process of quadrupling its logistics elements. Many in the news media do not understand that a newly formed and trained unit will take six months to a year to become fully functional. This is true in US forces and is a part of our standard training cycle. These new Iraqi elements will not be fully mission-capable until 2009.

• Armor: The Iraqi Army has little armor, most of it light. Up-armored HMMWVs are not armored vehicles by military standards, in spite of the press calling them armored. Iraq’s current 149 T72/T55 tanks are insufficient to deal with the most probable threat (Iran). The Iraqi Army needs a minimum of 1,500 additional tanks plus accompanying armored personnel carriers to deal with that threat. The organization and manning of a standard Iraqi Division has already indicated some of the units are planned to be armor or mechanized. NATO is working with the IA to provide an additional 70-120 T72s to fill out the 9th Division’s tank strength. Last April, Lieutenant General Ali Ghaidan, indicated the Iraqi Army planned to mechanize or armor four of the original 10 divisions with M60 tanks and M113 Armored Personnel Carriers. While there has been no follow-up on news reporting about this, potential sources of these tanks are 403 former-USMC M60s, 671 Greek M60s, and 400 M48s that have or are becoming available as the USMC replaces the last of its M60s with M1s and the Hellenic Army replaces its M48/M60 elements with Leopards. These tanks would require refurbishment and could be upgraded before fielding and then IA units would require training to use them.

• Artillery: The Iraqi Army has no artillery at this time. Without artillery, a field force would be combat-ineffective against a conventional force like the Iranian army or Revolutionary Guards. The indirect fires elements have been added to their force from the bottom up and the next phase is the formation of brigade fire support battalions. At 24 heavy mortars or howitzers per brigade, the current planned 65 brigades require more than 1,500 weapons. The divisional field artillery regiments are to start forming in 2009. They will require about 1,200 howitzers for the currently planned 16 divisions. They will not be fully operational until 2010 or 2011.

• Air Defense: The air defense of Iraq is the US. No plans for air defense units have been made public, although Iraqi Ministry of Defense officials reportedly have been shopping for anti-aircraft missiles.

• Engineers: Iraqi Army engineers are expanding to include the equivalent of a Corp of Engineers, but at this time are still mostly deployed to provide brigade and divisional support. The national infrastructure repair capacity begins formation this year.

• Reserves: Even considering the current announced plans and inferred plans, 16 divisions is insufficient for dealing with the principal threat. Expect further expansion to be announced as the IA progresses and sufficient cadre becomes available. According to Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, there are no current plans for a reserve Iraqi Army component. To deal with the potential threat, such a reserve force will have to be established because Iraq does not have the available manpower for an active army large enough to deal with the potential threat.

• Air Force: The current Iraqi Air Force is in its infancy with the Flight Training School standing up in October of 2007. Current earliest estimates are that Iraq will start to get jet combat aircraft in 2011 or 2012. Then its Air Force will have to train on those aircraft. To build an Iraqi Air Force capable of dealing with the most probable threat will take at least a decade. Pilot training takes a minimum of two years, plus it requires the aircraft to train on.

I have not addressed the Ministry of Interior components of the Iraq Security Forces. They are estimated to be one to two years behind the Iraqi Army in force development. All of this is readily available information that was provided in public briefings, and occasionally reported on, throughout 2007.

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6 Comments

  • Matthew says:

    Insightful report about the status of the IA, Bill. Thank you!
    I see the widsom of having American bases and personnel in Iraq to provide training for the IA and to act as defensive support against any invading army.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the – Web Reconnaissance for 01/23/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Brian H
    Thank you.
    My problem with the lazy and dis-informed journalists is they are being paid to report what is going on and they can’t or will not do so. So they are either defrauding their employers or part of defrauding the public when they publish that junk/fiction. Con artists or propagandists.
    The worst part of writing these articles is it makes me a “member of the press” in the eyes of the military and readers. That is the third greatest insult that I can think of calling someone.
    My appologies to members of the press for refusing to lower myself to their level of incompetance. In the military, their actions would be a chargable offenses: Deriliction of duty/Conduct unbecoming.
    DJ Elliott, IS1 (SW), USN (Ret)

  • Mark Pyruz says:

    Talk about sensationalistic press reporting:
    “Iraq’s current 149 T72/T55 tanks are insufficient to deal with the most probable threat (Iran).”–DJ Elliot
    For a military force that cannot adequately meet the needs of its own internal security, how is it that you are projecting upgrades to meet external threats coming from a nation (Iran) that has recently in the past signed formal agreements of assistance for Iraq’s defense and security needs?
    Also, considering that Iran and Iraq share the model T72/T55, wouldn’t it be more suited for such an envisioned cooperation between the two nations, rather than importing second-hand M60’s from the US and Greece?
    It should be pointed out that the Iraqi government has formally invited President Ahmadinejad to a formal state visit in Baghdad, and he has accepted. It is assumed that Iraq’s internal security and regional defense will be on the agenda.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    As I said in the article:
    “Planning by a prudent defense minister will look at potential hostile capabilities more than intentions because intentions can change quickly, but changes in capability take time and are much easier to measure.”
    – When studying possible threats you look at capabilities.
    – Not words from a politician.
    – Not propaganda.
    – Politics/Intentions can and usually is deceptive and can change overnight.
    – Capabilities are much easier to measure and do not change quickly.
    – Presidents and Prime Ministers visit hostile and potentially hostile countries all the time. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
    From the point of view of the Iraqi MoD, they have to look at all bordering countries as potential enemies for planning purposes and Iraq has a longer history of anomosity with the Persians than it does with its fellow Arabs. Iran also has the longest border with Iraq, the largest military, is arming elements in Iraq, and has an unstable government.
    Why cooperate with Iran on a tank that Iran does not manufacture? Go to the source not a competing buyer. (Russia or Ukraine or someone selling used) That is why they have asked for a donation from NATO of 70-120 used T72s being disposed of to fill out the 9th Division.
    That is why the Iraqi Commanding General IGFC was talking about getting M60s. They are cheap and becoming available. And they can take a T72 in a fight. Ask the USMC tankers in 1991 that fought the Iraqi 1st Mech, 5th Mech, and 3rd Armored. All T72 equipped Iraqi Divisions. Note: Iran also has more M48/M60 series tanks than Soviet T72/T55s in its inventory. The “indigineous” Iranian tank is a rebuilt US M60 with a 125mm gun from Russia…
    Of note, the Iraqi Minister of Defense is also trying to scrounge M1s from US as well. Look up the MNSTC-I testimony from 17 Jan.

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