Iraqi forces develop engineering capabilities

8th Division ILAV Badger with claw on October 20, 2008. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.

One significant deficiency of the Iraqi Security Forces is its imited engineering capabilities. Training personnel in the technical fields of engineering and explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) takes considerable time and the emphasis has been on fielding more infantry. This weakness is particularly glaring because of the enemy’s emphasis in using landmines (improvised explosive devises or IED). Current plans are to fill out the Iraqi Army engineers during 2009 and 2010. Until that training is complete, US engineers will have to remain to provide support and training to Iraqi forces.

There are two major groupings of engineering units. Construction engineers build things, like bridges, buildings, and air fields. They are trained as light infantry so as to provide their own security, and usually have their own assault boat elements for hostile river crossing and bridging. They are commonly referred to as pioneers and pontoon engineers.

Combat engineers are less focused on construction, although they do build obstacles and minefields. Their primary focus is on clearing enemy obstacles and minefields. Route-clearance of mines (aka IEDs) is one of their major functions. They are commonly called sappers.

The Iraqi Army’s engineering components exist, but are not currently of sufficient size and capability to replace the US and coalition engineers. The Iraqi Army plans to have a combat engineer platoon for each combat battalion, to provide route-clearance capabilities. As of November 2008, only one of the Iraqi Army’s 54 combat brigades had trained engineer platoons for all of its battalions. However, the 31st Brigade of the 8th Division was still awaiting delivery of its ILAV Badger mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) engineering vehicles, equipped with the engineering claw. In the 10th Division, only two platoons had graduated route-clearance training as of November 2008.

At brigade level, the situation is better. The plan is for a combat engineer company and an EOD company to be assigned to each Iraqi Army combat brigade. Approximately 60 percent of the 54 brigades have fully trained engineer companies and EOD companies, however they are not all equipped with their vehicles. Also, the claw attachments for the ILAV Badgers only started to arrive in the fall of 2008.

Each of the Iraqi Army’s divisions is to have an engineering regiment. The divisional engineering regiments will include a construction engineer battalion consisting of a headquarters company, a security company, an assault boat company, three construction engineer companies, and an EOD company. Nine of the 16 existing Iraqi Army divisions have fully manned, trained, and equipped construction battalions.

In addition to the divisional construction engineer battalion, seven of the 16 existing Iraqi Army divisions’ engineer regiments have an ILAV Badger-equipped combat engineer battalion. These combat engineer battalions were formed by converting existing infantry battalions and are composed of a headquarters company, a security company, four combat engineer companies, and an EOD company. These battalions are still in varying stages of training, and not all have received the claw attachment for their ILAV Badgers.

While the Iraqi Army has not started forming its planned four corps, it is expected that each corps will have its own engineering brigade. This is standard in most countries, including the old Iraqi Army and the US Army, on which the Iraqi Army has been modeling itself. Most countries maintain these corps-level support components as reserve elements, since they are not required in peacetime.

The army-level engineers (above corps level) have not been formed,except in one battalion. The 1st Engineer Infrastructure Battalion was formed by taking volunteers from the Ministry of Oil and the Ministry of Electricity and training them as a battalion at the Taji Engineering School. This specialty construction/repair battalion consists of a headquarters company, two security companies, an electrical repair company, and a pipeline repair company. Since one battalion is insufficient for national coverage, at least three more of these battalions are expected to be formed. They will probably be retained under direct Iraqi Ground Forces command.

There has been no sign of replacement elements in the Iraqi Army for the reconstruction role currently filled by the US Gulf Regional Division-Corps of Engineers.

While the Iraqi National Police (INP) and Department of Border Enforcement (DBE) have some engineering capabilities, these elements are not as mature as the Iraqi Army’s. There has been no reporting of engineering or EOD components larger than company-size in the Ministry of Interior forces. Considering the INP’s and DBE’s wartime roles as infantry divisions augmenting the Iraqi Army, these battalions will be required. However, these battalions are not required except in their wartime conventional forces infantry role. If the Ministry of Interior were to establish a reserve, these wartime-only battalions would be logical components.

The Iraqi Security Forces are missing a component that most of the countries in the world have. Since 2003, Iraq has not had a reserve. There is no reserve obligation in their enlistment contracts. There is no reserve contract. Given the volatility of oil prices and the need for massive reconstruction funds, Iraq may have to consider shifting elements of the planned Iraqi Security Forces to organized reserve components. If the Iraqi Army continues to follow the US pattern, engineering formations above divisional level would be one of the likely components to be in the reserves. Most corps- and army-level components are required only in wartime mobilization, not for peacetime or low-intensity conflict.

Given the budget situation, the Iraqi Government might consider putting some of the wartime-only components, like corps- and army-level engineers, into an organized reserve. Engineers are one of many support functions that require larger forces in wartime, but are a drain on technical personnel that are needed in the civilian work force. This option could also address the status of the Sons of Iraq. The government plans to retrain most of the Sons of Iraq for jobs in reconstruction. Why not make them part of an active security-force reserve training program? Much of the engineering components required for wartime are not necessary in peacetime. The government could recruit the Sons of Iraq into a reserve engineering unit based in their area, train them in construction and military engineering, and then let them take jobs as civilian construction workers who happen to be security force reservists.

With the exception of the training program, this is not all that dissimilar to how the US Navy Reserve recruits and trains SeaBees (CB-construction battalions). The US program recruits personnel who are already construction workers. Then, they are ranked depending on how qualified they are in their profession, and trained in the military and infantry tactics. This is also similar to how the Iraqi 1st Engineer Infrastructure Battalion was formed, except the 1st EIB is not reserve. This type of program would fill the Iraqi need for workers in reconstruction, while filling the Iraqi wartime requirements for engineers.

The Iraqi Security Forces are a work-in-progress. Supporting forces took a back-seat to combat forces until the end of 2007. Engineering support elements are among those components required for the Iraqi Security Forces to be independent by 2012. US forces will be required to fill these roles while training the Iraqi Security Forces to replace them.

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

Questions remain on the development of the Iraqi Security Forces – Dec. 18, 2008

Iraqi Security Force Order of Battle



  • KnightHawk says:

    Nice coverage of the topic DJ, it will be interesting to see how they handle the significant budget crunch this year if oil doesn’t recover to the 60$ range.

  • anand says:

    Could the construction and to a lesser degree the combat engineers be used for civilian reconstruction projects inside Iraq? Could they facilitate and manage private construction contractors? The IA seems more efficient and less corrupt than many other GoI agencies with civilian reconstruction responsibilities.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    That is what the Gulf Regional Division-Corps of Engineers does. And why I specifically mentioned that:
    “There has been no sign of replacement elements in the Iraqi Army for the reconstruction role currently filled by the US Gulf Regional Division-Corps of Engineers.”
    I expect the IA will form their version of a Corps of Engineers, but it might not be in the MoD.
    Ours evolved into their current role as a way of funding military engineering training/experience while getting federal projects built.
    The EIB is more in keeping with that role except that it is a field repair operation.

  • John says:

    good thing they have this initiative to stop civilians from being hurt


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