One of the common errors made in analyzing a combat force is looking at the armed services in isolation. To comprehend the organization of the Iraqi Army, you have to factor in the contributions of the other armed ground forces in Iraq. Also, you have to recognize what threat the Iraqis are planning against.
This article addresses the existing and planned ground components of the Iraqi Armed Forces at the end of Phase 3 development (2020), and will not include air, naval, and marine components. Readers should keep in mind that this article is projecting Iraqi Security Forces a decade into the future. Some of the decisions that affect this forecast have not been made yet.
The Iraqi Army’s current role of providing internal security is a secondary responsibility. Internal security is primarily a police function and is the primary role of the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Defense is designed to be the Ministry of Interior’s backup for when a situation exceeds the Ministry of Interior’s capabilities.
Likewise, the Ministry of Interior has a backup role to the Ministry of Defense in a major war mobilization. The Ministry of Interior’s forces provide infantry, rear-area security, and some light mechanized forces in that situation. Five of the nine corps headquarters and 22 of the 46 divisions in a general mobilization belong to the Ministry of Interior. However, only three of the Ministry of Interior’s divisions are to be mechanized, eight divisions are to be security, seven are to be motorized, and the remaining four divisions are to be infantry.
In a general mobilization, the Iraqi Army is planned to provide only 20 of the 46 currently identified planned divisions. This includes the majority of the airmobile/airborne and mechanized divisions plus all of the armored divisions. At this time, 16 of those 20 Iraqi Army divisions are already formed, but they are not currently configured or equipped for their future role. All but one division is currently configured as infantry or motorized. The Iraqi Army is planned to include four armor, six mechanized, five airborne/airmobile/commando, three mountain, and two security divisions. The Iraqi Army will also provide four of the nine planned corps headquarters.
The second largest planned Iraqi ground force is the Iraqi National Police. This Ministry of Interior force is modeled on the Italian Carabinieri. Like the Carabinieri, the INP has the secondary role of providing infantry and light mechanized force to support the army in wartime. The INP is in the process of forming its fourth division and had planned to form its first light mechanized division this year. Budgetary difficulties may delay this fielding. The Iraqi National Police is planned to be 11 divisions, three of them light mechanized, one security, and seven motorized infantry.
The third largest planned Iraqi ground force is the Department of Border Enforcement. In any ground incursion into Iraq, this Ministry of Interior component would be the first engaged. The DBE is organized into five division-size regions and would contribute four infantry and one security division to the total mobilization.
The next largest component is actually two forces at this time. The Iraqi Special Operations Forces and the Ministry of Interior’s Emergency Response Brigade will probably be consolidated into the Counter-Terrorism Bureau. The CTB is planned to become a separate ministry from the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior. Legislation for this new ministry remains hung up in the Iraqi Parliament. Currently, the combined Special Operations Forces are the equivalent to a divisional-size airmobile force. Analysis of their locations and organization indicate they are planned to grow to, at least, a four-division equivalent-size force. [MNSTC-I indicated that this portion of the draft article was in error. However, no further details have been forthcoming.]
The Ministry of Interior’s Oil Protection Department is currently a divisional-size security force. But OPD is to expand to three light division equivalents by the end of 2010. Because of the wartime importance of oil infrastructure, these three security divisions would fall under the combined structure.
The Ministry of Interior’s Facilities Protection Service is planned to be 108,000 strong, larger than the Department of Border Enforcement. However, the FPS is forming only three divisions in its current reorganization plans. The FPS is not currently organized at divisional level. These three security divisions constitute the Facilities Protection Service’s contribution to a wartime mobilization.
This total structure and the possible wartime distribution of divisions is mapped out in Illustration 1 (above right).
The planned force structure is based on the perceived threat. While some continue to look at Iraq as an Iranian ally, the Iraqi force dispositions and planned organization paint a very different picture. The Iraqi security forces are organized with the primary threat being Iran and secondary threat being Syria, Iran’s ally .
• Two of four planned Iraqi Army armored divisions are stationed along the Syrian border supporting the Department of Border Enforcement division.
• Four of six planned Iraqi Army mechanized divisions are to be stationed along the Iranian border, also supporting three DBE divisions.
• The Saudi Arabian border is covered by an under-strength Department of Border Enforcement division (two brigades).
• The Turkish border is covered by a single Department of Border Enforcement brigade, supported as needed by Kurdish Regional Guards elements.
• The Jordanian border is covered by a single Department of Border Enforcement brigade.
• The Kuwaiti border is covered by a single Department of Border Enforcement brigade.
In a wartime mobilization, Iran could field 48 divisions, mostly infantry. The extensive Iraqi border with Iran combined with this large force makes Iran the biggest threat to Iraq no matter how good the current political relationship.
The Syrians have a smaller force, but it is mostly armored. However, Syria also has to cover its Israeli and Lebanese borders. As such, the most Syria is likely to have to reinforce the two mechanized divisions in the Iraqi border regions is an additional armor or mechanized division.
The Turkish Army is the second largest in NATO. However, it is focused on the Greek, Armenian, Georgian, and Iranian borders, with only one corps assigned to internal security duties against Kurdish separatists in the Iraqi border region. Also, the road network does not support large-scale force movements into Iraq through the mountains.
The combined armies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait, Iraq’s other neighbors, do not equal the threat of Iran, Syria, or Turkey alone. And Syria is allied formally with Iran.
The planned total force structure of the Iraqi Security Forces is designed with the Iranian-Syrian threat in mind. This force will have the personnel components by 2011 for this structure, but the equipment and upgrades will take until 2020, at least. The recent drop in oil prices is likely to delay or cancel some of the equipment upgrades in the armored and mechanized components. Oil sales are the primary source of revenue for the Government of Iraq’s budget. At this time, the Government of Iraq is trying to shield the Iraqi Security Forces from budget cuts. If the price of oil does not rise, that policy may be impossible to continue.
Currently the Iraqi Army is planning to equip its armor and mechanized divisions with new-built M1A1 tanks and new armored personnel carriers. These weapons systems are very expensive. However, the Iraqi Army may resort to buying used armor for part or even most of their force.
Many European countries are replacing their older tanks with German Leopards. Because of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, most of those tanks will have to be disposed of. It is cheaper to donate used tanks to another country than it is to destroy them. Scrapping tanks costs more than the salvaged metal is worth. This is why Hungary and Slovakia have donated used T72 tanks to Iraq through NATO.
All of the Soviet-designed tanks currently in the Iraqi Army were donated or salvaged. The Government of Iraq did not pay for those tanks. The only tanks the Government of Iraq has paid for are new US M1A1s. This factor puts the Defense Solutions proposal to sell upgraded T72s to Iraq for $3 million per tank into perspective as a bad deal. Why should Iraq pay $3 million per used T72 tank when NATO countries are giving those types of tanks away to Iraq? The Defense Solutions proposal has been rejected by the Iraqi Government since 2005.
One option would be to acquire the M60 Patton tanks being disposed of by Greece and Spain for immediate use. These tanks were sold to Greece and Spain for $100,000 to $200,000 in the 1990s and are now being replaced by used German Leopards. Later, as the budget permits, these tanks could be upgraded.
The most expensive of the M60 upgrade programs is the M60-120S. Using mostly M1A1 components, the turret, gun, fire-control system, engine, and suspension are replaced and armored skirts are added. The M60-120S costs half as much as new M1A1s while providing the same firepower with reduced mobility and hull protection. The Russian upgrade program for Iranian M60s is the same as the M60-120S except it uses T80 components and the T80’s 125mm gun and turret. There is also an Israeli M60 upgrade program, but politics make that an unlikely choice. There is also an upgrade program for Jordan’s M48 Patton tanks that could be used for those Patton variants.
Additionally, the US is in the process of replacing 6,000 M113 armored personnel carriers with Stryker APC variants and Bradleys. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense has not asked for any of these APCs, despite already using more than 200 in the current force.
The Iraqi Ministry of Defense has been looking exclusively at buying new armored vehicles, including M1126 Strykers. Falling oil revenue is likely to force the Iraqi Ministry of Defense review its options.
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