The Real Surge Continues: Iraqi Army Corps Formation

Iraqi Battalions. Courtesy of MNF-I.

In the “Iraqi Security Forces Order of Battle: April 2008 Update,” the additional elements forming in the Iraqi Army were projected as probable indicators of additional divisions. Additional information and reappraisal indicates that was incorrect. While the Iraqi Army plans to add divisions, they will not be stood up this year. Other formations have priority.

The addition of the two Kurdish divisions to the Iraqi Army remains on hold while the Government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government wrestle over money. “Baghdad central government also refused to pay the salaries of more than 190,000 Peshmerga fighters through the budget of the federal Ministry of Defense (MOD).” With the delays in this transfer and the time needed for retraining/equipping, these elements probably will not be operational this year.

General Petraeus’ Congressional Brief slides projected an Iraqi Army battalion count of 187 at the end of 2008. This 15 to 16 division equivalent count prompted a request for information to Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. The number had appeared to confirm the addition of two more divisions to the Iraqi Army by the end of 2008. The response from Captain Roy provided a correction and mentioned a factor not allowed for in the April update:

“There are battalions which are not aligned to any particular division such as the Engineering Infrastructure Battalion. This separate battalion is charged with the security and repair of Iraq’s energy infrastructure. This organization just completed the Unit Set Fielding process on 2 APR.”

The Iraqi Army has several gaps in its structure, most of which were listed in the “Projected ISF Five year Plan (end-2012)”. Among them is the corps level structures and subordinate units.

_____Corps Independent Brigades. Normally, corps have additional field artillery, ADA [Air Defense Artillery], engineer, aviation, and other independent brigades. None of those additional components has formed.

The announcement of the formation of four Iraqi Army corps over the next four years includes the formation of these corps subordinate units. One point to clarify, these are separate Iraqi Army organizations from the seven joint operations commands that have formed, but a pattern of organization can be inferred from those joint commands. First they stand up an operations center, then the security and quick reaction elements, then support and administration units, then extra units, etc. The five Regional Support Units have been converted to divisional Base Support Units, so replacement field corps support brigades will be needed.

Projecting this year’s elements and using the planned divisional average of 12 battalions per division, and with the 6th Division retaining the 54th Brigade (future lead brigade of 15th Division), 159 of the 187 projected combat battalions will be divisional elements. Of the remaining 28 battalions, six are forming or formed elements of the Iraqi Special Operations Force. That leaves 22 battalions, one of which is the new Engineer Infrastructure Battalion (EIB) and five are in the independent Presidential Brigade. There are 16 Iraqi Army combat battalions not accounted for. Most (if not all) of those are probably Corps’ Quick Reaction Brigade components although some may be reinforcements to existing brigades.


Some of the indicators of what is forming are:

• 1. There are four army corps forming in addition to the joint operational commands.

• 2. There are approximately 20 battalions in excess of standard organization in 2nd (4), 4th/12th (8), 6th (4-6), and 8th (3) Iraqi Army Divisions.

• 3. The 37th (old 4-9) Brigade has a unique organization and may be the training and test bed for Iraqi Stryker units (wheeled armored units).

• 4. The 37th Brigade has been receiving “Stryker” training. (Stryker Brigades are regularly used as Multi-National Corps-Iraq’s reserve.)

• 5. The 4-9 Reconnaissance Battalion, with the only 35 EE9s wheeled 90mm gun armed scout cars in the Iraqi Army, has an odd battalion designation, indicating a temporary designation.

• 6. There are an additional 336 BTR3E1s in Foreign Material Sales purchases and these were chosen instead of BTR80s since “Operational lessons learned demonstrated the need for a larger caliber main gun.” That is eight battalions worth of armored cavalry vehicles. Adding route clearance vehicles, EE9s, and HMMWVs, these could easily fill out five brigades. BTR-3E1s are a cavalry vehicle, armed with 30mm canon, 40mm grenade launcher, anti-tank missiles and light machine guns but, carrying only six infantry and three crew. By comparison, a BTR-80 armored personnel carrier carries nine infantry and only two crew with a heavy machine gun.

• 7. The Presidential Brigade is forming and is described as a five-battalion mix of light infantry, motorized and armor. While this brigade is assigned to the Joint Baghdad Operational Command, it provides a framework for probable independent brigade organization.

• 8. Major elements of the oversized 25th Brigade (nine battalions) and possibly elements of 8th Division went through “Commando Training”. (The standard corps’ reserve for the old Iraq Army was two BTR-60 mounted commando brigades. The 25th Brigade may be being used for training up commando elements.)

• 9. The formation of the operational commands has included the detachment of better battalions as their security and quick reaction force (Joint operational commands simular in organization to army corps).

• 10. The additional trucks ordered and over 300 sedans. (The sedans probably represent staff cars and the rest, headquarters and corps’ sustainment brigades vehicles.)

• 11. The formation of the 1st Infrastructure Engineer Battalion. (This is too small for the nationwide duties and should be looked at as the start of engineering brigades.)

What these indicators add up to is the start of the formation of corps headquarters and corps-subordinate security/quick reaction force brigades. The missing aviation and air defense elements are probably planned for the 2009-2012 period. The missing artillery for the corps will form after the divisional artillery regiments start to form in 2009. Factoring in training and equipment delivery time, the corps’ support brigades’ personnel training and equipment will probably not be done by the end of 2009. The first priority is the divisional support elements of which eight (of 13) are established and the remainder are being built and expanded. The engineers will not be formed this year. Engineers have a long training pipeline and only the 1st Infrastructure Engineer Battalion has formed so far. The current plan is to fill out the divisional engineering components in 2009/2010.

The planned Iraqi Army corps structure is estimated to be:

• Corps’ Headquarters (forming by end-2008)

• Corps’ Independent Cavalry Brigade (forming by end-2008)

• Corps’ Sustainment Brigade (forming 2009/10)

• Corps’ Artillery Brigade (forming 2010/11)

• Corps’ Engineer Brigade (forming 2010/2011)

• Corps’ Air Defense Brigade (speculation, forming 2011)

• Corps’ Aviation Battalion or Brigade (speculation, start forming by 2011)

• Three to five divisions (already formed but, receiving own sustainment in 2008, engineers in 2009/10 and divisional artillery in 2009/10)

Independent Security and Quick Reaction Force (QRF) Brigades

The formation of the Presidential Brigade was a glaring hint to the start of independent brigades and their probable organization. The Presidential Brigade represents the joint Baghdad Operational Command’s security and QRF element. The probable organization of its five planned battalions is:

• Two motorized light infantry (or commando) battalions for security duties (probably ILAV/HMMWV equipped).

• Two light armored cavalry battalions for QRF duties (probably BTR/HMMWV equipped).

• One armored reconnaissance battalion for QRF duties (probably re-designated 4-9 recon battalion with EE9/HMMWV)

The four army corps’ QRF/security brigades will probably be equipped with three cavalry battalions with BTR/HMMWVs and one battalion of light infantry (or commando) with ILAV/HMMWV. Three light armored cavalry and one motorized commando battalion for security/QRF in each corps.

The uniquely organized 37th Brigade is probably being used as a training and testing formation for the independent QRF Brigades’ light armor components. When the 37th finishes training, it probably will be re-designated as an independent brigade and a new 37th Armor Brigade will be formed using the NATO donated T-72 tanks arriving later this year.

The commando training at Kalsu by the oversized 25th Brigade is probably for the infantry components of these brigades. All of these brigades will probably be assembled from experienced and highly trained battalions. These will likely be light armored cavalry with commando trained infantry components, or the equivalent of a Stryker brigade reinforced with Rangers.

New Brigades planned, forming, or estimated.

Just to add to the battalion confusion, there are five round-out brigades planned or forming. The Iraqi Army is trying to standardize its divisions at four brigades, each with three battalions per brigade. The signs of the formation of new independent brigades can be missed or mistaken for these brigades (and vice-versa). With this caveat, the following is the status by division and where some divisions have battalions in excess, indicating probable new brigades assembling and training:

• 1st Division does not show any signs of expansion. Currently has one brigade each augmenting Baghdad (4th) and Basrah (3rd).

• 2nd Division has four more battalions than standard, including the one already detached to Ninawa Operational Command. These extra battalions probably are future components of an independent QRF Brigade.

• 3rd Division has its fourth brigade (12th) in the Unit Set Fielding program at Besmaya. This will bring them to standard next month.

• 4th and 12th Divisions are not splitting apart until June. Combined strength is short one brigade headquarters but, with sufficient battalions (8) for two more brigades. These extra battalions probably represent one round-out brigade for 4th Division (17th) and an independent QRF Brigade

• 5th Division received its fourth brigade (21st) from Besmaya in early March. No other signs of expansion.

• 6th and 11th Division. 6th is planned to have five brigades, currently has four, and has battalions for seven at standard strength. All of those excess battalions are located in the triple strength 25th Brigade. The 25th Brigade may be involved in cadre and commando training for new brigades. The adjacent 11th is still short its fourth brigade (45th). Also, the independent Presidential Brigade is assembling. The excess battalions in the 6th Division probably represent components of the assembling 23rd/6th, 45th/11th, and Presidential Brigades. The Presidential Brigade is the joint Baghdad Operational Command’s independent QRF Brigade.

• 7th Division received its fourth brigade (29th) on April 3. No other signs of expansion.

• 8th Division has recently finished fielding its replacement brigade for Wassit (32nd) and has formed three excess battalions in Karbala’s 33rd Brigade. Those extra battalions probably are components for an independent QRF Brigade.

• 9th Division is at slight over-strength and has an unusual configuration in its 37th Brigade. The 37th Brigade is probably the test, training, and cadre Brigade for wheeled armored units (Strykers). As the 37th finishes this role, it will probably become part of a new corps’ independent brigade. The 37th will probably be replaced with a T72/BMP1 equipped brigade when the NATO donations of 70-120 T72s is settled later this year.

• 10th Division is at standard strength and does not show any signs of expansion.

• 14th Division is due to receive its newly formed fourth brigade (53rd) from Besmaya in May/June. These personnel are currently in boot camp.

• Iraqi Special Operations Force (ISOF) also factors into this expansion since they have been recruiting for their expansion from graduates of the 25th Brigade’s Commando Course. They then send them to the Operator Training Course. Graduates go to the 2nd Counter-Terrorism Battalion, while the others go to the forming and expanding regional commando battalions.

The current rate of Iraqi Army combat brigade formation is one every five weeks, but the Unit Set Fielding Program has expanded from Besmaya to include new formations training and forming at Habbenayah (29th) and Taji (1st EIB). Part of that will be employed for finishing the expanded divisional support units.

Additional Divisions

The job of Quick Reaction Force has been handled primarily by the Coalition. The establishment of 9th and 1st Iraqi Army Divisions as QRF formations has started the transition, but most of those troops are already employed in Mosul, Baghdad, and Basrah which has resulted in an additional brigade being borrowed from 4th Division (14th from Tikrit). This indicates a greater need for such forces, the probable assignment of 4th Division to QRF, and the need for additional forces to cover the areas currently covered by these QRF Divisions. The establishment of a corps-level QRF Brigade components is good and necessary, but the Iraqi Army is not done adding new divisions. There are still components and indicators of additional Divisions in the future structure.

• The Kurdish forces will still be incorporated into the Iraqi Security Force and they number 100,000 active. The two divisions that have been hung up in budget negotiations are only a quarter of that force. Discounting the 30,000 that are likely to end up in the Iraqi Police, there is an entire corps of Kurdish troops left to be absorbed into the ISF after those first two Kurdish divisions. This is the largest element that is being absorbed but not the only one.

• South Baghdad has a division-sized task force composed of the oversized 25th Brigade (nine battalions) and the 34th Mechanized Brigade augmented with the 2-35th Armored Battalion. This area will continue to require forces and elements will be needed to cover north Baghdad with the deployments of 9th Division.

• The Basrah Sector has a temporary third division, composed of the 1st Division headquarters, 1st Brigade(-), 3rd Brigade, 14th Brigade, and 36th Armored Brigade(-). This is a strategically significant area, and it would be practical to have an additional permanent division there. (It also would be practical to expand the Iraqi Marine Battalion to brigade strength.)

• With the assignment of 1st Division to QRF and deployment to Basrah, Anbar needs an additional division to cover that huge area, especially when 1st is deployed.

• Similarly, the 8th Division has too big an area. It covers Karbala, Babil, Wasit, Qadisayah, and Najaf provinces. It needs to split and expand to two divisions — preferably three to establish another QRF division.

The 12th Iraqi Division forms this summer. After that, the priority is independent brigades, round-out brigades for the existing 13 divisions, filling out the de facto divisional support brigades, and establishing the four corps’ headquarters. In 2009, the formation of field artillery and further support will be a priority. Factoring in training and the establishment of the other missing components (e.g. artillery), the Iraqi Army will probably be adding one division per year, two in those years that Kurdish divisions are assimilated. At the end of 2007, the Iraqi Army had 125,000 personnel. At the start of this year, it was just under 200,000. Training is increasing this year to 130,000 boot camp graduates per year. The Iraqi Army is still growing and it will add additional new divisions, but not this year.

(Information for these Order of Battle updates is drawn from open and unclassified sources. Such data can be subject to multiple interpretations.)



  • Alex says:

    Could you explain the difference between ORA 1, ORA 2, and so on?
    I am also curious as to what this Presidential Brigade will do. It appears that this is more than just Secret Service bodyguard action…maybe more like the US Capitol Police then?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    The Presidential Brigade is a military formation.
    Two Light Infantry Battalions for security duties and three more battalions of motorized/armored for quick reaction.
    They are not police in any way shape or form. They are combat troops.
    One of their unstated purposes is to prevent military coups.
    (Have you ever visited the White House and noticed the USMC guards? Or noticed the Marine helo that flys the President. That is not just cerimonial. They USMC has had the job of guarding the president and preventing coups since Washington. “And other duties as the President directs.” All countries have a military element who’s job is to counter coups. Most just do not advertise it.
    Note: The secret service did not come on the scene until Lincoln.)
    Unit rating.
    There are two grades to status of military units.
    – Operational Category ratings. Based on hard numbers of personnel and equipment on hand vs MTOE.
    – Readiness rating. Subjective. Based on how well trained the troops and officers are, how well the operate as a unit, so on…
    The combination of those two is the Operational Readiness Assessment.
    To get C1, you need more than 95% of all essential equipment and personnel. Combine that with unit’s personnel demonstrating the ability to plan and conduct operations completely on their own – R1. That combination is ORA1.
    A unit with 85-95% of pers and equip is C2, If they are able to plan and conduct operations mostly on their own they are R2. The combination is ORA2 even if one of the categories is one. The lower grade counts for overall. This is commonly called “in the lead”. Since the IA keeps building new units with experienced personnel from the better units, most of the IA is in this category. This shortage of experienced leaders is the major logjam to expansion.
    ORA3 is operational but not in the lead. 75-85% but, needs work usually on planning and coordination.
    ORA4 is in-training. Formed unit but, still training. This can last after a unit is fielded. One of the field technics for training is to partner an experienced bn with a new bn and do OJT…
    ORA5 is forming or Cadre. Think key officers and NCOs only. Most of the pers are still in bootcamp or civilians.
    ORA6 is planned. No equip/pers assigned or training yet.

  • Andrew R. says:

    I think I’ve come across this in earlier stuff you’ve done, but is there any word on mortar units at the company and battalion level?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Andrew R.
    There are already reports of 60mm mortar training in the green 14th Division. That is the youngest Division at this point. That indicates the company level mortar sections are mostly fielded.
    There has also been purchases of 81mm mortar ammo and fire support training last fall in 8th Division. 8th is usually one of the first to get upgrades. No reports of other Divs getting their battalion mortar batteries so far.
    The Bde and Div level FA does not start until next year. The pattern in Iraqi Army is bottom-up training and improvements. Expect the battalion and company levels to be finished this year and the Bde’s FA Battalions to be the priority next year.


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