US advisers give dark assessment of state of Iraqi military

This report from McClatchy describes the US military’s initial assessment of the Iraqi security forces and their ability to defend against the Islamic State and its allies as well as push the group out of its strongholds in Anbar, Diyala, Salahadin, and Ninewa provinces. The assessment is “grim,” as McClatchy states. At least four Iraqi Army divisions have fallen apart, and the remaining Iraqi units are compromised by poor leadership, or Shia militiamen and Sunni infiltrators. Additionally, the Islamic State has made significant gains in northern Babil, just south of Baghdad.

The initial U.S. assessment, which arrived at the Pentagon Monday, apparently is just as grim. In one of its most alarming findings, according to a Pentagon official, the advisers concluded that while Iraqi troops could defend Baghdad against an attack now, they would be unable to launch the kind of offensive maneuvers required to fend off the insurgents for the long term, leaving the capital at continued risk. The official asked to remain anonymous because he had not been authorized to discuss the report.

The advisers also warned that the majority of Iraqi brigades are infiltrated by either Sunni extremists or Shiite militias, the official said.

The assessment will inform the Pentagon’s recommendations to President Barack Obama on possible options in Iraq, though there is no public time line for when such recommendations could arrive at the White House. In the meantime, the assessment teams remain in Baghdad, where they would become advisers to the Iraqi military should the White House authorize that step.

As the Pentagon drafts it recommendations, the size of the Iraqi debacle in June is becoming increasingly clear:

Four Iraqi army divisions have simply disappeared and won’t be easily resurrected.

The 2nd Division was routed from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, on June 9 at the beginning of the Islamic State’s advance, and its four brigades have dissolved.

The 1st Division also is basically gone, losing two brigades in Anbar province earlier in the year, then two more during last month’s Islamic State onslaught, including one brigade that in the words of the senior Iraqi politician was “decimated” in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

The same is true of Iraq’s 3rd Division. The division’s 6th and 9th Brigades fled the Islamic State’s advance in the north, and the status of its 11th Brigade is unknown. A small unit of its 10th Brigade is still in Tal Afar, but it is trapped by Islamic State forces.

The 4th Division also was routed. Half its members have disappeared — many suspect they were massacred when the Islamic State captured Tikrit — and only one small unit is known to still exist, surrounded by Islamists at a one-time U.S. military base near Tikrit known as Camp Speicher.

The Iraqi media — which has been ordered by the government to release only good news about operations in order to promote morale, with threats of prison for journalists who fail to spin events positively — asserts that an operation cleared the road between the key Iraqi city of Samarra and Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.

But the effort in fact appears to have stalled 20 miles outside Tikrit. “It’s heavily contested and the army and militias can’t make headway,” the politician said. “There are too many explosive devices on the road.”

Read the entire article. Two additional points below:

1) It is likely that more than four Iraqi Army divisions have dissolved. The 7th Division, based in Anbar, is probably inoperable; the Iraqi government’s deployment of 4,000 Shia militiamen to Ramadi is sure proof that both the 1st and the 7th are no longer viable fighting forces. Also, the armored convoy (likely a company or more) in Khalidiyah that was ambushed and destroyed was from the 9th Division (the 9th has M1 tanks), which is further evidence that the two Anbar-based divisions are offline. See LWJ report, Islamic State routs Iraqi armored column in Anbar, from two days ago.

Additionally, the 5th and 12th divisions, based in the Tigris River Valley in Salahaddin province north of Baghdad in Tikrit, are also likely to have been dismantled. Reports have surfaced that Iranian-backed Shia militias are guarding the road from Baghdad to Samarra.

Meanwhile the 17th Division, which is in the Sunni Triangle just south of Baghdad, may have reached its breaking point. It has launched numerous offensives in an effort to retake Jurf as Sakhar since the beginning of the year, only to have failed each time.

2) Read the LWJ report, A protracted struggle ahead for Iraq, which was published by Bill Ardolino and me on June 24. Weeks before the US military’s assessment, we noted that the likelihood of the Iraqi military retaking areas lost during the Islamic State’s offensive was slim to none absent significant support from the US. The Iraqi military’s inability to retake control of Anbar province since the beginning of January should have made that all too clear.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • TELH says:

    Time for reaping what has been sown

  • blert says:

    1) Maliki permitted the American built Iraqi army to be infused with his corrupt buddies.
    2) Maliki rejected US Army military advice — going back years.
    But then, Maliki doesn’t listen much to anybody.
    Iraq can’t be stabilized as long as Maliki is in the wheelhouse.
    History is not going to be kind to Bush or 0bama: just too many epic mistakes.
    The entire American analytical apparatus is plainly deficient.
    I posted more than six months ago that the Syrian-Iraqi border was history.
    Since I can’t imagine 0bama reversing course, one should expect Iraq to break up into thirds, with Kurdistan being the first to acknowledge its new status. Plainly, Ankara has come around to accepting Kurdistan — a total policy reversal.
    Just on the economics, I expect Ankara to provide the trade route for both Sunnis and Kurds. (Oil, and everything else)
    In a round about manner, Turkey has backed itself into to being the critical power player in all these events. It’s destiny is to tie into in the Sunni camp.
    Already plans are afoot to increase oil pipeline capacity across southern Turkey.
    It’s obvious to all that Maliki has no power projection capability outside of southern Iraq.
    He’s wildly misusing the military assets that he does have… almost like he wants to throw them away.
    (A tank thrust up north against rag tag irregulars makes no military sense at all. So, Maliki’s all for it.)
    { His only viable option is to accept that he’s lost all of the Sunnis. Romping around Tikrit will accomplish absolutely nothing. He can’t intimidate a fly. }
    The average IQ of Iraqi troops is below Western norms. This means that they can’t maintain complex military gear in the style and manner required. They just don’t have enough mechanics and electronics techs.
    Yet the Americans built an army around the basic assumption that these resources were ready to hand. Tanks and helicopters breakdown constantly.
    ISIS, in contrast, is running around on the beds of Toyota pick-ups. Their heavy machine guns are based upon the Browning M2 (and Russian/ Chinese knock-offs thereof) — which is ancient.
    Iraq needs an army that is based upon straight leg (light) infantry — the only thing that Baghdad can sustain in a campaign.
    I expect that the Shi’ites are entirely reforming a new national army along sectarian lines.
    I expect that even Baghdad may proved to be lost to the Sunni tribes. The only chance that this might be averted turns on ejecting Sunnis from areas south of Baghdad — probably in a wholesale bloodbath. (artillery centric warfare)
    It’s telling that Maliki has an enfeebled artillery arm. IIRC, he’s still awaiting his American howitzers. Iran figures to remedy that deficiency in pretty short order.
    (One is reminded of the defeat of the Tamils in an artillery offensive.)

  • Alex says:

    Serious question: about every week now, I see a news report that the IA is launching an offensive to re-take Tikrit. The question is, what is actually happening there?

  • SUNBLOCK says:

    “The Iraqi media — which has been ordered by the government to release only good news about operations in order to promote morale, with threats of prison for journalists who fail to spin events positively”
    NSAGCHQ JTRIG at work…. Yup i smeared the 2 into 1 quite purposively… As the American Revolution seems to bave been forgotten and why.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Bill: You only missed 1 more factor.
    Before the offensive, there was a division’s worth of the 8th Mech, 10th Mech, and 14th Inf Divisions augmenting in Anbar/Ninawa.
    They are also probably gone.
    6th and 8th Divs hav been commited to Anbar from Baghdad,
    9th, what is left of 4th/5th and part of 11th are commited to Sammara/Diyala, and
    14th Div [Basrah] has redeployed to parts unknown.
    The IA is stripping the south and Baghdad to try to hold the line – scraping the bottom of the barrel…

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I concur. I was giving my “conservative” estimate. When I estimated that 4 divisions dissolved right after the offensive began in mid June, I was criticized here. Looks like I was more than right. But I still want to be cautious.
    It is difficult to track what has happened to the detached units that are in Anbar, Salahaddin, and Diyala. Given what we are seeing about militias patrolling main raods and deploying en masse to Ramadi via air, we have to assume the worst.
    Also, it would be interesting to know what has happened to the INP formations. The reporting on these units is scarce at best. I have to assume they’ve suffered the same fate at their IA counterparts.

  • JRP says:

    In thinking about the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and other foreign embassies, this siege on the Iraqi Capitol is reminding me of the Boxer Rebellion in China back in 1900 and the TET Offensive in Saigon back in 1968. Never mind trying to re-take this area or that area; worry about the Islamic State fighters overrunning the Capitol and slaughtering every “infidel” found. Moreover, once the handwriting is on the wall, every local supposedly having our back will turn coat and engage in “green on blue” attacks ala Afghanistan. At this point, if we are not going to go into Iraq and roll back the Islamic State, we should evacuate before thousands of Westerners are trapped and killed.

  • blert says:

    Obviously, the IA has fissured along ethnic and sectarian lines.
    The Sunnis and Kurds have rejected the tyranny of Maliki by just walking off.
    Maliki has an AWOL army.
    It was destroyed by politics (Maliki) long before it failed at Mosul.
    The American officers can see that they’ve got nothing to work with. The previous fundamental assumption that they could Americanize the Iraqi Army is toast.
    Tribal ‘armies’ don’t scale up.
    As for brutality: ISIS/ ISIL/ IS is destined to out do Saddam. Which is saying a lot.
    In any prior era such travails would’ve been reflected in a strong price ramp in crude oil. Yet the global economy is so weak that prices are soft.
    OPEC’s cartel is breaking up. How can it hold together when the key players are shooting at each other?
    I’d expect Maliki to reach out to the mercenary community, PDQ.
    At the top of his list has to be pilots. In the Saddam era, to be a pilot was to be a Sunni Arab.
    Maliki bit the hand he had to kiss. He’s impossible to work with, or around. He can’t even accept that his play is over.
    I can’t imagine 0bama campaigning to conquer the Sunnis so as to put them under Maliki’s boot heel.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    The FP is more brittle and has less log support than the IA. I’m writing off 3rd FP Division and the FP Bdes north of Samarra.
    My read of the IA is:
    Gone: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th.
    Questionable: 5th, 7th, 12th, 17th.
    Remaining but reduced by at least 1 bde:
    6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 14th, ISOF.
    Unk: 11th.
    At this point the Kurdish Regional Guard has more combat effective forces than the IA…
    Only reason I haven’t wrote it up is that I’m still recovering from the hack that crashed my PC and backups on 17 June…

  • John M says:

    Obviously, our equipment and training did not take with the Iraqis. We should recall our “advisors,” and let Iran give it a go. After all, it is their neck of the woods….

  • Sand squid says:

    DJ, I’ve heard elements of 9th ISOF are at Al Asad, with majority having suffered severe attrition fighting in Ramadi and Fallujah this past spring. Unknown how much is left holding out at the airfield. Anyone have any reports on Haditha dam?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    John M:
    The IMoD plan was for Iraqi Strategic Independence in 2020. I’ve mentioned this litttle detail since 2008.
    2012 was a political decision.
    So you abandon a child after 8 years and really expect it to do the job planned for a 16 year old?

  • Morgan says:

    Was in Ramadi – Fallujah in 2010-2011. We were well aware of the deficiencies of the IA / IP / FP and routinely told higher about it. But we also thought (half-heartedly) that an agreement would be signed and US forces would remain to help ISF, which we all knew they desperately needed.
    Not surprised that ISF fell as easily as they did. When visiting IP checkpoints in Ramadi, the police there rarely had more than 5 rounds per person. Couple that with piss-poor logistics and piss-poor leadership (result of political appointments) and you have a paper tiger waiting to crumble, which is what has happened.
    They wanted us, so we left. The fight is now theirs. Let them have it.

  • Faizal Vally says:

    You should have not gone into IRAQ and destroyed a legitimate government, rather ‘tamed’ Saddam. Better to have a dog you know than a mongrel you dont … and its come back to haunt, or rather to bite the US… A total miscalculation, as usual.


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