The December 9010 Quarterly report to Congress on progress in Iraq was released to the public on Jan. 13. This unclassified version of the report is required by US law and “includes specific performance indicators and measures of progress toward political, security, and economic stability in Iraq, as directed in that legislation.” The report is one of several regular reports on Iraq and is not to be considered all-inclusive. This is the 14th quarterly report. The previous one was from September 2008. The most significant parts of the report concerning Iraqi Security Force developments are summarized below.
Provincial Iraqi Control
The remaining five provinces of Iraq are still scheduled to transfer to Iraqi control within the first six months of 2009. “This is expected to be a joint Iraqi and Coalition effort, focusing on the remaining provinces of Salah ad Din,Tamim [Kirkuk], Diyala, and Ninewa and culminating with the planned transition of Baghdad in June 2009.” The order listed is the order the provinces are expected to transition.
Not surprisingly, funding is an issue in the development of the Iraqi Army. Over 95 percent of the Iraqi budget is derived from oil exports. The price of oil has dropped to a third of what it was in the summer of 2008. These factors, combined with training policies, have reduced the number of personnel added to the Iraqi Army in 2008. “The 2008 Basic Combat Training graduation rate of just over 70,000 is lower than the goal of 114,600 needed to attain 2008 force generation goals,” according to the report. “The reason for these shortages include the fact that the GoI’s [Government of Iraq] mandated Transition and Reintegration (TNR) Program to reintegrate previous security members into the government prohibited TNR selectees from sharing the same training base with new recruits. More significantly, budget constraints delayed the start of the upcoming Basic Combat Training cycle. The budget limits MoD [Ministry of Defense] staffing to 258,000, which precludes additional accessions. Once this budget issue is resolved, over 20,000 recruits are ready to enter the training base.”
The single biggest problem the Iraqi Army faces is the Iraqi budget. “The MoD [Ministry of Defense] force generation plan for 2009 currently exceeds its projected spending authorizations for 2009, requiring reconciliation of this issue with the MoF [Ministry of Finance].”
The program to transition 8,500 used US HMMWVs to the Iraqi Security Forces by the end of 2009 continues and is being accelerated with the addition of two new facilities in the north (Ghizlani) and south (Shaibah) to augment Taji in central Iraq. More than 2,500 HMMWVs have already been transferred to the Government of Iraq.
The computerization of maintenance programs has been completed and a tracked maintenance facility has been reported at Al Asad. This newly identified facility indicates that the 7th Division, headquartered at Al Asad, is a priority for upgrade to armored status. Contractor support, in the process of being phased out, is still in use at these facilities. The goal had been to replace those contractors by the end of 2008.
The Iraqi Army still is expanding and 208 total combat battalions are planned for 2009. The retraining and restructuring of the former Strategic Infrastructure Battalions (SIBs) are not completed as planned. Five SIBs of 12th Division and one SIB in 2nd Division are still pending retraining and conversion. The 12th Division will add a brigade, the 49th Brigade, as part of the conversion process.
Iraqi Air Force
The Iraqi Air Force continues expanding its base support structure. The Iraqi Air Force now intends to have 11 air bases, rather than the 10 previously planned. “There are on-going projects at Taji, Kirkuk, and New al-Muthanna Air Bases to increase training capacity and support the growth in personnel. This base expansion will be completed over the next four years. There are three major base infrastructure turn over efforts underway in Kirkuk, al-Kut, and Ali Ab [Tallil].”
Counter-Terrorism Bureau and Iraqi Special Operations Forces
The most detail in the report was on the Iraqi Special Operations Forces and their parent quasi-ministry. The Iraqi bill to establish the Counter-Terrorism Bureau as a separate ministry still awaits approval to formalize a ministry-level position for the director.
The Iraqi Special Operations Force is slowing its expansion because of the tight budget. It is still showing indications that it is to grow to (at least) a two-division level. The Iraqi Special Operations Force has two training battalions. The standard Iraqi Army division, with 12 combat battalions, has only one training battalion. ISOF has only six existing combat battalions.
The nine existing combat and support battalions plus the forming Garrison Support Unit (GSU) are as follows:
1st ISOF Brigade
1st Commando Battalion-Baghdad (Formerly the 36th Battalion.)
2nd Reconnaissance Battalion-Baghdad (Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Force)
3rd Support Battalion-Baghdad
Iraqi Special Warfare Center and School (ISWCS; ISOF Training Command)
4th Training Battalion-Baghdad
5th Training Battalion-Baghdad
Four 440-man regional commando battalions and supporting GSU:
6th Commando Battalion-Basrah (Full operational capability in mid-2008.)
7th Commando Battalion-Mosul (Full operational capability in mid-2008.)
8th Commando Battalion-Diyala (Full operational capability in December 2008.)
9th Commando Battalion-Al Asad (Full operational capability in May 2009.)
Garrison Support Unit-Baghdad (Support for deployed units; still forming.)
Training and screening of the Iraqi Special Operations Force was also outlined: “The ISWCS conducts three rotational courses to meet force generation requirements. The first is the three-week Selection Course; the attrition rate for candidates in this rigorous screening course is greater than 50%. Of those who graduate, the top 10% are sent to the eight-week Operators Training Course, and from there they are assigned to the 2nd Battalion (ICTF). The next 20% are earmarked for the six-week Commando Course. The remainder is assigned to the Support Battalion and Garrison Support Unit. Recruits for the Selection Course are nominated by Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurdish tribal leaders from among candidates who have no prior military experience.”
Ministry of Interior Forces
The Ministry of Interior’s long-term goal is to have a National Police Brigade in each province. In time, the National Police will establish permanent bases in all provinces in Iraq, except in the Kurdish provinces. The National Police currently is planning to establish additional brigades in Ninewa and Diyala provinces and will complete the full establishment of the brigade in Basrah in 2009. Of note, the National Police Sustainment Brigade, planned to be completed in 2008, is still forming.
The structure of the Oil Police was also outlined. They are organized into three regional commands (South, Central, and North). However, the previously identified nine existing battalions include only one located in the central region. This means that most of the nine battalions scheduled to form in 2009 will be in central Iraq. While the final strength of the Oil Police is undetermined, it could be up to 35,000, or the equivalent of three divisions.
Of interest are some of the topics not addressed in the quarterly report to Congress. Often, if such a report ignores a significant area of Iraqi security, it means something is going wrong or at least there is no change. The following three items are of particular interest because there should have been changes to them during the period covered by the report:
1. Engineering support currently is a major focus of training in the Iraqi Security Forces. Yet the report includes only a mention of this support component, with no details on the unit.
2. Indirect fires components (artillery) are to start forming and equipping in 2009. Again, the report has no details on preparation or early training on the mortars already received.
3. The 15th and 16th Mountain Divisions are still not listed or addressed in the report. These two Kurdish divisions, totaling 30,000 personnel, were to have transferred to the Iraqi Army in August/September of 2008. However, no information has been released on the actual transfer. There appears to be a US military blackout on the subject of Kurdish transfers to the Iraqi Security Forces. Almost all of the information on these two Kurdish divisions have come from the Iraqi press and politicians.
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