Iraqi Army develops the heavy mechanized and armored forces

An American M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank and a crew of Soldiers in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, and Iraqi Army crewmen of a T-72 tank perform checks in preparation for a live fire demonstration on Forward Operating Base Hammer, Oct. 31, 2008. (US Army photo by Pfc. Evan Loyd, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division Public Affairs)

The Iraqi Government has been ordering substantial numbers of weapons this year. These orders, combined with known training plans, and existing force structure, provide insight into the eventual planned force structure of elements of the Iraqi Security Forces. The Air Force, Iraqi Army light infantry, and light armored forces already have been addressed in The Long War Journal. The focus of this article is on the announced arms purchases and what they indicate for developments in the Iraqi Security Force’s heavy mechanized and armored forces.

The three stages of upgrading the Iraqi Security Forces are organized into five-year plans. The first stage started with the establishment of the first elected Iraqi Government in 2006 and it lasts until 2011. Stage 1 is intended to build a basic force. By the end of this stage, the Iraqi Army is apparently planned to be 20 or 21 divisions organized into four corps.

The second stage is to build the forces up in capabilities including independent armored, mechanized, airmobile, naval, and air forces, thus converting the existing basic force into a heavier, more capable force. Stage 2 is set to last from 2011 to 2015. The arms purchases for the beginning of Stage 2 have been and are being announced.

The third stage is to complete the training and improvements. Stage 3 should be thought of as the insurance period for any slippage in training and developing the ISF, such as that caused by a reduced budget due to lower oil prices.

Iraqi soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 34th Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division (Mechanized), drive their tank [BMP1] waving the Iraqi flag proudly across the Besmaya firing range, Iraq, on Oct. 31, 2008. (US Military photo by Spc. Chase Kincaid, Joint Combat Camera Center Iraq)

The announced purchase of M1A1M Abrams tanks matches the tank component of four armored battalions based on the organization of the Iraqi Army’s 9th Armored Division. Iraqi Army armored battalions are normally composed of 35 tanks and nine BMP1 mechanized infantry combat vehicles. BMP1s are the planned mechanized vehicle component for armored battalions. The current and planned numbers of BMP1s in the Iraqi Army indicate a total of 60 armored battalions are planned.

The Iraqi Army organizes the 9th Armored Division into three armored brigades and a wheeled mechanized reconnaissance brigade. Each of the armored brigades has two armored and one mechanized battalion. Mechanized brigades are a mirror of the armored brigades, they have only one armored battalion for two mechanized battalions. A mechanized division is composed of one armored brigade, two mechanized brigades, and a wheeled mechanized reconnaissance brigade. There are four armored battalions in a mechanized division. While the distribution of M1s and other types of tanks being purchased are undetermined, the purchasing plan of four battalions of M1s per year for five years equates to the tank components for the five planned Iraqi Army mechanized divisions.

To accelerate the formation of the M1 equipped armored battalions, Iraqi Army elements are already being trained on US M1s at the Besmaya Training Range. This training has coincided with the 45th Brigade, 11th Division’s training and fielding at Besmaya. The 11th Division already has BMP1s in its inventory, as well as MTLB armored personnel carriers assigned to engineering elements. This indicates 11th Division is first to upgrade to M1 tanks.

Based on already identified future tracked divisions, terrain and potential threat axis, the remaining four planned mechanized divisions are probably going to be in provinces bordering Iran south of the Kurdish Region. The Kurdish Region is too mountainous for practical employment of heavy armor. This means that the planned mechanized divisions are:

• 11th Mechanized Division in Baghdad. (Already using BMP1s and MTLBs.)

• 5th Mechanized Division in Diyala.

• 14th Mechanized Division in Basrah.

• 18th Mechanized Division in Maysan.

• A new mechanized division to be formed in Wassit. (The 8th Commando Division is planned to split off that part of its area.)

Several Iraqi T-72 tanks from 2nd Battalion, 34th Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division (Mechanized), standby to move to the firing line during a live fire exercise at the Besmaya Gunnery Range, Oct. 28, 2008. (US Military photo by Sgt. Jacob H. Smith, Joint Combat Camera Center Iraq)

There are nine heavy armored or mechanized divisions planned. The 9th Armored Division is already being equipped with T72 tanks and other tanks will probably be used for the three remaining planned armored divisions, independent armor/mechanized brigades, and training establishment. Both of the T55 equipped armored battalions currently in the 9th Armored division will probably transfer to the training establishment with their replacement by NATO-donated T72s. Based on already identified future and existing tracked divisions, terrain, and standard employment patterns, the four armored divisions will be:

• 9th Armored Division in Baghdad. (Upgrading with more T72s from NATO.)

• 3rd Armored Division in Ninawa. (Already using M113s.)

• 7th Armored Division in Anbar. (Already using BMP1s.)

• 10th Armored Division in DhiQar/Muthanna.

Missing from the announced arms purchases are the tanks required for the three projected armored divisions, the corps’ four independent armored brigades, and the armored personnel carriers for seven of these armored/mechanized divisions. Previous reporting indicated that the Iraqi Army was to get M60 tanks. The current programs in Europe replacing M60s with Leopards indicate the missing tanks will be M60s from European countries. The US and European programs replacing their M113s indicates the missing armored personnel carriers will be M113s.

These armored and mechanized forces will provide Iraq with a capability to defend itself on the ground against the most likely threats. Nine heavy divisions out of the 20 Iraqi Army divisions may seem heavy, but that is less than a quarter of the total mobilized Iraqi Security Forces. Also, it is a comparable force to Iraq’s neighbor and most likely threat, Iran. While Syria is allied with Iran, the majority of Syria’s forces and their best armor is not available for an Iraqi fight. Those units are dedicated to the Israeli border.

This is the fourth in a series of articles on Iraqi Security Force components. The first was “Iraq announces plan to expand the Air Force.” The second was “Iraq develops its light combat divisions.” The third was “Iraqi Army develops its light armored forces.”



  • Barlowmaker says:

    Thanks for these updates D.J. The Iraqis are obviously eager students and they are learning from history’s best.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/03/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Andrew R. says:


    Okay, I know that I always bug you on this, but is there any word on those Slovakian T-72’s? Also, ISTR reading about some T-72’s that have been rebuilt from various bone yards and I was wondering if you had any information on that.

  • Lisan says:

    Mr. Elliott,
    I like these updates, although I give myself a headache trying to make equipment cheat sheets, complete with all equivalent acronyms, common names, and pictures. Some day perhaps I won’t even need the pictures.

    On a related topic, in one of the past OOB comment threads you applied/estimated the military readiness C levels to several Iraqi units. I went looking to see if that information was on your OOB file, but didn’t see it. With all the equipment you’ve written about for the armored, mechanized and light armored units, and with so many Iraqi units being the lead forces, I was wondering, being clueless myself, if you would comment about how you perceive the readiness levels, and how they’ve changed.


  • DJ Elliott says:

    Andrew R:
    Early next year is when the Slovakian T-72s are to arrive. Per MNSTC-I.
    You probably saw the mention of T-72 rebuilds here. 20-40 have been refurbished and are in service with 2-34/9 and 3-36/9 ArmCav Battalions.
    It was probably Anand comments. He tends to get overly fixated in guessing the numbers.
    The OOB has always reflected the general C codes:
    – When you look at the OOB, some bns are boldfaced and others are not. Boldface is C1/C2. The difference between “in the lead” and “independent” as defined by the military is not that great. Tends to be subjective at these levels.
    – For the non-boldfaced, look to the right notes column. If it doesn’t say forming or planned, then you are looking at C3. Partnered.
    – Forming (training or just forming cadre) is C4/C5. Lot of overlap in the grade there since differing components of a bn can be still forming while others are training.
    – Planned is C6.
    Those grades are based on what type of unit they are now, not what they will eventually be. That means that there will be reductions in ratings when they convert the bns,
    – to C4/training while they get the new gear,
    – then C3 while they get used to the new equipment after training is over.
    But, the C3 stage tends to be short for experienced units that convert to simular roles. E.G. Infantry to Motorized to Mechanized. The mounted component does not require as much retraining.
    I suspect the IA plans to form the armor bns from cadre, then swap the extra infantry bns out and use them for forming the infantry components of the 18th Div, Numaniya Div, and CorpsTroops.

  • Lisan says:

    Thanks, Mr. Elliott–I’ll go back to the OOB with your information close to hand. I guess I wasn’t too far off in grades I made up for myself. Just lovely to see the growth of the Bold each month you post this…

  • Kudzu630 says:

    Great to see this progress. When I was at FOB Normandy in early December 2005 I saw at least a dozen low-boy trailers that had M60A3s on it in full Iraqi regalia. I took a double take and would have taken a picture but I was a bit too busy and now I regret it. We did an old MEK armor yard on FOB Normandy (also called Fallok) with pieces of armor and artillery all over. I’ll post a picture on my blog (link above) for those interested.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Iraq captured a lot of US and UK origin equipment from Iran during the Iran-Iraq War.
    Most was used to equip MEK during the war and after.
    That is why M113s, M577s, and M109s have been salvaged and used by IA 5th Div. Most of those captured pieces are in the local boneyards of 5th IA’s AOR.

  • Marcello says:

    “The current programs in Europe replacing M60s with Leopards indicate the missing tanks will be M60s from European countries.”
    I am beginning to wonder if that is actually going to happen. Couldn’t they have decided that a slower build up focused on higher quality tanks (Abrams and to a much lesser extent T-72s) is a better use of money ?
    Short of a very expensive and extensive upgrade M60s are getting rather obsolete in a modern battlefield.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Entirely possible.
    The question is time and money.
    Can the IA afford to wait the time and spend the money?
    To fill out the missing tank components at the current rate of purchase of M1s would take 13 years at 2.16 billion USD per year.
    28.2 Billion and final delivery in 2022. And that is just the tanks and thier direct support. Not APCs, not air, not Artl, etc…
    The purchase of the M60s fills out the force until such time as they can be replaced.
    Existing M60s cost 5% what a new M1 does.
    The M60-120S upgrade costs half what a new M1 costs.
    And the tanks are available much sooner, just as soon as the Leopards replace them in Europe…
    If the GoI/MoD thinks they have 13 years before they need them and that they can afford the pricetag for the next 13 years, then buying all M1s makes sense.
    I do not see 13 years of M1 buys in the budget and I do not think they want to wait 13 years to finish building their armor/mech forces…

  • Marcello says:

    I fully agree that if they want a relatively tank heavy force in short order they will have to get M60s or similar.
    What I was wondering about is if they actually want to field large numbers of tanks at all in the next future.
    After all several western armies have deemphasized heavy armor in favor of light mechanized forces backed by limited numbers of high quality tanks (that seem the trend at least). Couldn’t they have decided to take the same route?
    It may not be the wisest course of action for them but decisions like that are not unheard of.

  • jack winters says:

    Hi DJ
    You know with all of this info it’s getting confusing for people even the one’s that understand what your saying, with Iraqi mechanized, armored, light , cavalry etc 
    It’s really confusing so in simple terms can you tell us according to the plans that they have and in your judgment how many Tanks, APC’s, Lav’s do they need?
    Just give us a final number are we talking a 1000 tanks or more and so forth it would help give people a bench mark or even a clear understanding of where the Iraqi’s are headed

  • DJ Elliott says:

    The reason the west is moving toward more light forces is for expeditionary purposes. You can move light forces faster over long distances.
    You can get away with that if you have air supremecy and the air support to offset the lack of heavy forces on the ground.
    The west includes three of the five countries that produce 85% of the world’s combat aircraft…
    Iraq is not building an expeditionary force. And their air will be comparable to its neighbors, not enough to offset the lack of firepower on the ground.
    As to numbers.
    13 years of 140 tanks each year seems easy enough to figure.
    Approximately twice as many APCs including the mech support.
    20 Divs with 72 Howitzers/MRLS, 72 120mm Mort, and 72 81mm Mort each.
    Plus the fire support for the 19+ MoI Divs on mobilization.
    Then there is the SAMs.
    Aircraft is 38 Sqs at 18-24 aircraft per sq.
    Four naval sqs of 1 PS and 5 PBs plus a support sq of 3 vsls and assault boat sq of 50 boats.
    That is scratching the surface…


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram