Questions remain on the development of the Iraqi Security Forces

Nearly all reporting on the Iraqi Security Forces falls into two categories, what is known and what we think we know. These reports include The Long War Journal‘s Iraqi Security Force Order of Battle and related articles. As a general once said, “Tell me what you know. Tell me what you think you know. Tell me what you don’t know. And tell me which is which.” This article will address some of the major gaps in the public knowledge of future developments in the Iraqi forces, and contains a check-list of major missing and unknown Iraqi Security Force components. It should be considered a sampling and not all-inclusive.

Iraqi Air Force

While the composition of the air elements planned for the Iraqi Air Force is fairly clear, the makeup of the air defense forces is not. The only indication of the potential acquisition of surface-to-air missiles was a mention in a Ministry of Defense shopping trip to Europe over a year ago. Most countries have air defense forces to provide coverage so as to concentrate their air elements on offensive employment. Those forces are usually either part of the air force or a separate service.

Iraqi Navy and Marines

The Iraqi Navy patrol and support elements through 2010 are fairly clear and recent notices indicate a plan to double the patrol boat elements. However, there are no missile-armed coastal defense elements or vessels. Some form of missile-armed vessels and possibly coastal defense systems are to be expected. To date, no such vessels have been identified for purchase.

The plan to grow the Iraqi Marines is clear up until 2010, after which it is unclear if they plan to expand further. The expansion of the Navy indicates that the Marines will likewise expand. Historically, the old Iraqi Navy had two brigades. This was to provide Marine forces for operations in the marshes as well as for coastal defense and maritime operations.

Iraqi Army

Iraqi Army’s divisional structure, identifications, locations, and planned numbers are fairly clear. What is not clear at this level is how many and what types of divisional and corps artillery components and equipment are planned. To date, the only divisional artillery components that have been identified are mortars.

While a rough distribution of the existing and planned divisions among the future four corps exists, this will probably change and the designations of those future corps are not publicly known.

Also missing is information on the numbers and composition of corps and army troops. The US Army usually has a mix of sustainment, artillery, engineer, air defense, military police, aviation, and cavalry brigades. While the Iraqi Army is being modeled on the US format, the Iraqis do have their own preferences.

Prior to 1991, the Iraqi Army included an independent mechanized or a tank brigade and two commando brigades in each corps. The only corps troops elements identified to date are the 1st Infrastructure Engineer Battalion and the Presidential Brigade. In the case of the Presidential Brigade, little data is publicly available beyond that it is to be a five-battalion mix of armor, motorized, and light infantry. The projected Iraqi Air Force elements do point toward the addition of an aviation brigade supporting each corps and one more for the Iraqi Ground Force Command.

Iraqi Special Operations and the Counter Terrorism Bureau

There is a 250 percent variance in the estimate of total Iraqi special operations forces. A minimum of two and a maximum of five divisions are estimated, depending on how many elements are built or transferred from other commands. The Ministry of Interior retains control of the National Emergency Response Brigade, separate from the Counter Terrorism Bureau. While this element probably will join the Counter Terrorism Bureau, the final strength of these forces is not clear.

Iraqi Ministry of Interior

The Ministry of Interior Regions (Corps) troops are not formed or clearly determined. Additionally, the five regions are not balanced in area, population, or forces. This indicates that the five regions will be or are being reorganized. But it is not clear how the areas and forces will be changed.

The Ministry of Interior has announced plans to form an aviation squadron of helicopters to support operations throughout the country. The types of helicopters being reviewed for this squadron indicate it is intended to support special operations forces. One squadron is not nearly enough capability for that role and the other support roles within the Ministry of Interior. This indicates an intention for the Ministry of Interior to establish its own aviation squadrons, but no further data on the size and composition of this force is publicly known.

Iraqi National Police

The size of the Iraqi National Police is estimated as a minimum of nine divisions. At least three of these divisions will be mechanized. Depending on how many of the other Ministry of Interior police paramilitary units are absorbed by the National Police, the Iraqi National Police probably will grow to at least 12 divisions. These forces have a secondary role as infantry divisions for external defense, which indicates they will require some artillery and additional sustainment capacity. That additional capability may be part of the force or separate Iraqi Army augment brigades.

Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement

The Department of Border Enforcement’s five regions are still being built up. Their current force mix is unbalanced with regions having two to four brigade equivalents each. This indicates they will reorganize as they fill out. Also, like the National Police, these five divisions are used as infantry forces for external defense, which requires some artillery and additional sustainment capacity. Like the National Police, the additional capability may be part of the force or separate Iraqi Army augment brigades.

Iraqi Facilities Protection Service

The Facilities Protection Service has 98,000 personnel or approximately six to eight divisions worth of personnel. With the exception of the Oil Police Directorate, the organization of the Facilities Protection Service is not publicly known. It is known that forces are being trained and organized for guarding the International Zone, the National Bank, and for use guarding transportation assets, but no structure or order of battle for these forces (or others not reported on) is known.

Even the Oil Police’s known structure is limited to the existence and locations of its current 10 battalions and that they are growing to 22 battalions over the next three years. This growth is to replace the Iraqi Army’s 12th Division. Its structure above battalion and the organizational structure of the battalions are not publicly known.


While most of the current Iraqi Security Force has been identified, much of the future components planned are still not publicly known. Each of the above major categories could easily rate a one to two page line-item check-list of questions. Some of the gaps in information exist because the decisions have yet to be made by the Iraqis. What is known is that the current Iraqi Security Forces have more than 40 divisions worth of forces, but are missing major components. Those missing components are to be built by 2020.

Related articles on the development of the Iraqi Security Forces:

Iraq strengthens the Counter Terrorism Bureau – Sept. 10, 2008

Iraqi Security Forces develop logistics capabilities – Sept. 22, 2008

Iraq announces plan to expand the Air Force – Nov. 6, 2008

Iraq develops its light combat divisions – Nov. 20, 2008

Iraqi Army develops its light armored forces – Nov. 27, 2008

Iraqi Army develops the heavy mechanized and armored forces – Dec. 3, 2008

Iraq develops the National Police mechanized forces – Dec. 10, 2008

Iraqi military plans major arms purchase – Dec. 12, 2008

Iraqi Security Force Order of Battle



  • jack winters says:

    Hi DJ
    Good points as always;
    Yet what your talking about DJ will cost a lot of money in terms of purchasing equipment for all these units not to mention maintaining them; can Iraq afford such a big force?
    I’ll tell you why I’m asking because during the Manama security summit in Bahrain three days ago, Burhim Sallah the Iraqi vice prim Minster said that; the ISF has reached almost a million and we’re thinking about shrinking the force. So what do you think?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    The principle reason that I keep seeing used armor purchases as likely, is because they can’t afford all new.
    1. What is the threat? Do they have enough to deal with that threat? Current answer is no.
    2. What can they afford? If they cannot afford what they have and are currently building, what do they cut? What do they take a risk with?
    Those are the questions. One more set.
    3. What jobs exist for those that they cut? If no jobs, then what is to stop the newly unemployed from carbombing for hire?
    Keep in mind that Iraq is still a socialist state model with the government the principle employer. One way or another, the GoI is going to be paying those people…
    – The reality is the IA is going to grow.
    – The INP is going to grow.
    – The CTB will grow.
    – The Air Force will grow.
    – The Navy/Marines will probably grow.
    – The DBE will probably grow.
    – The provincial IP Paramilitaries and FPS will probably be cut, eliminated, or absorbed by the DBE, INP, and CTB.

  • jack winters says:

    Thanks DJ
    I still have a couple of questions that I don’t get 
    Lets say that Iraq will buy 700 M1s like the OOB says, and they will buy Lav’s or strykers or both, this gear is all made by the same company wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to negotiate with GDLS for a multiyear plan to buy this equipment rather than go and buy sums each year?
    The other I don’t get is the how can 400 Strykers be worth 1.1B and Lav’s be 3.5 just because they have 25M gun they are higher, I mean the pricing is just way off I don’t know the pricing seems a bit odd don’t you think?
    And when you have units with new equipment and others with used and old, that will cause an imbalance in the force unless your creating a two tier force yes?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    jack winters:
    “…wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to negotiate with GDLS for a multiyear plan to buy this equipment rather than go and buy sums each year?”
    – Yes. And it would be cheaper. However, the Iraqi budget is only annual. So long as the Parliment is only giving out money piecemeal, the MoD/MoI has to spend it that way. Note: US Congress does things just as bad…
    “…the pricing seems a bit odd don’t you think?”
    – Yep. I suspect the strykers are the stripped down version with it being either/or M1117/M1126. and the notice for LAVs included other equipment. Also possible that DoS messed up the numbers. After all, they claimed that the Strykers were for Police and MNSTC-I SAO said “ARMY” IRT my RFI.
    “And when you have units with new equipment and others with used and old, that will cause an imbalance in the force unless your creating a two tier force yes?”
    – They already have one. And soon to be three tier. T72/T55 equipped 9th Armored Div is better equipped than the rest of the IA but, will not be as well equipped as the units that get M1s and whatever new APCs they go with.
    Also, they will have light divs and heavy divs…
    Militaries are rarely the same thruout. In the US Army, the split tends to be USA and ARNG.
    The USMC got the last of their M60s replaced with hand-me-down US Army M1s two years ago. After the ARNG got all theirs. And long after the USA had completely upgraded to M1s.

  • KW64 says:

    DJ thats an interesting comment about the order of equipment acquisition by US forces. Is there a practical reason the army and national guard get the newer equipment before the marines or is it a political thing?

  • Edward says:

    I would think (as an armchair general/civilian/layman) that there would be more to disseminate, seeing as the Marine Corps is the smaller service branch.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Pure inter-service politics.
    The USMC is actually proud of being able to do more with less than the army. They claim to be the authors of 1001 uses for ducktape. Also keep in mind that there is not much left that is still servicable when you are getting hand-me-downs.
    That US order of upgrades (USA>ARNG>USMC) has been true for some decades. When a Rgt of ARNG arrived to reinforce the 1st MarDiv at Guadalcanal, they had the new M1 rifle. USMC was still equipped with Springfields…
    The Iraqi army is going to be two-three tier while upgrading and probably longer. I fully expect them to upgrade division by division with the current vehicles in the upgraded divisions being passed to other divisions. I also expect to see the first upgrades of M1s to be in the Baghdad. Pure politics. Think about what new M1A1 Tanks with Iraqi markings in the capitol says…
    In the end of this upgrade plan, most of the current vehicles in the IA will be in the four airmobile and four mountain divisions or further passed down to the DBE…

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Note: If I were doing the Iraqi upgrades, I would not be doing it Div-by-Div. I would be picking lead Bdes in several Divs to upgrade. Causes less impact while the Bdes are off-line for re-equip/re-training. The Div continues to retain its assigned AOR while only part of it is off-line.
    Unfortunately, the Iraqis do not tend to operate that way…
    Another question I have:
    What is Iraqi MoD buying from the UK?
    I have an inquiry in but, so far, no joy.
    The IMoD’s spokesman mentioned that they were buying from “US, France, Britain, and others” in the 14 Dec brief. I cannot find any other reference to an Iraqi UK arms purchase…

  • jack winters says:

    Hi DJ
    I don’t think Iraq is going to buy from the UK, first the current Iraqi government doesn’t like how the UK performed in southern Iraq, there was a chance that Iraq was going to get ships or boats for the navy, but that didn’t happen yet. Although they are going to train the Iraqi navy so no one knows????
    In terms of the air force or army I don’t see any system that Iraq wants to buy that the US doesn’t make, and Iraq would get it cheaper and train on it faster I’m I right DJ?
    So if Iraq is going to get something from the UK it would be for the Iraqi Navy, what do you think DJ?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    I think that when a senior Iraqi MoD spokesman publically says they are buying from Britain, that they are buying from Britain. The question there is not if, but what…
    Possibilities include point defense SAMs, ATGMs, Armor, Helos, vessels, etc.
    Gaps in what systems they have announced being purchased exist in all areas, and include potential systems for all services.
    PS The Iraqis do not like France having supported Saddam either and that has not stopped them from ordering helos from them…

  • KW64 says:

    Thanks DJ

  • DJ Elliott says:

    There is one way that Iraq could reduce the ISF personnel size while still providing for its needed defense.
    Establish an active Reserve.
    They do not have a reserve obligation or contract in their current system.
    If they do establish a reserve, they could put most of the needed FA and, say 1 of the 4 line Bdes in each Div in reserve. That would reduce the IA active strength by 30% of the approx 400,000 it is currently organized to grow to.
    They could do the same with the INP and DBE. Activate them if and when needed. Otherwise they get payed for drill for training during the month.
    Certain elements, like the air defense force, would need to be all active. But they do not need to have the entire army full time active…

  • DJ Elliott says:

    PS Just to provide a valid comparison. The pre-Saddam Iraqi Army (only) was 300,000 active and 300,000 reserves. This was with a population half what it is now and no war (1976).
    – The total current IMoD (all services) is ~228,000 active (Incl ISOF) and has no reserve.
    – On the MoI side, the INP and DBE combined are ~82,000.
    The 1,000,000 they are quoting are including the regular police (~300,000 IP), FPS (~90,000) which is a guard force, and SoI (~90,000). Even then I can only account for 800,000.
    Unless they are counting the planned IMoD increase of 90,000 and the INP increase of 40,000 planned for next year. And some of that is going to be transfering existing personnel (SoI) to other services…
    (The percentages used by western countries of what their security forces are does not include rent-a-cops, Armored car services, etc, which is what the FPS (and some IP) fills the role of…)

  • anand says:

    Regarding CTC:
    I see minimum being:
    1 Division MoI special forces
    1 Division ISOF:
    – 5 regional brigades
    – 1 scouts reconnaissance battalion or brigade
    – one training brigade or battalion
    – 1 division level sustainment brigade equivalent (currently the 768 man GSU with 60 man regional detachments with each of the 5 forming ISOF regional brigades
    – division HQs
    – several aviation squadrons
    Beyond this, perhaps emphasis will be placed on the scouts/reconnaissance within the IA (at the Corps, Division and Brigade level.) Surplus soldiers trained by the ISOF in special forces training will likely be used to beef up the reconnaissance/scouts in the traditional IA.

  • SomeGuy says:

    DJ, in terms of Artillery, what kind of SP Atry will likely be picked to outfit the IA?
    We know they are still in possesion of a small # of M109A3’s that are currently NMC, but do you think this will end up being their building block for DivArty in the Mech units?
    Overall it is a good system, but the pricetag for refit and sustainment of the force may be too much.
    Personally, I think they’ll pick it anyway…your thoughts.
    Resp- SomeGuy

  • DJ Elliott says:

    The total lack of reporting on the potential howitzer buys has been bothering me for some time.
    M109s are widely used and would be a good choise but, if they were buying those, I would expect to have seen reporting already.
    The divisional FA Rgts are to be done in 2011. So far, nothing above mortars has been reported and then only enough 81mm/120mm for 7-8 divs (Bn Btrys and Bde Fire Support Bns)
    I suspect they are buying from a more closed mouth country. (E.G. South African Reva buys for the INP are normally found out about after delivery.)

  • jack winters says:

    Hi DJ
    I’ve just come across an interesting article on the start of training Iraqi tank crews on the M1A1 tanks this is the link
    But what is interesting, is that the article talks about the new Iraqi tanks and how it describes them:-
    “The Government of Iraq purchased 140 advanced M1A1 Abrams Integrated Management Situational Awareness tanks scheduled to arrive in the fall of 2010.”
    M1’s have some situational awareness using the day/night vision system and a management system for acquiring and hitting the target, but from my experience we don’t use the word integrated unless you link other systems together like other tanks and command posts all in one integrated system could this be the upgrade .
    What do you think DJ?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Jack Winters:
    That is a cut and paste from a MNSTC-I press release of the same day. I am on e-mail distro for all MNF-I press releases.
    Also, you should put that detail together with the M1126 Stryker APCs in contention for the APC component.
    Coordinated armor operations.
    They have been observing our operations and apparently like the new C4I systems…

  • anand says:

    When the IA has all its new up armored Humvees in the fight (maybe 300 per brigade), will you designate these brigades wheeled mechanized lightly armored cavalry, or motorized infantry?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Motorized. Just like I have been all year.
    HMMWVs do not count as armor except to politicians and press. They are the replacement for the Jeep…


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