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Iraqi Special Operations Force
06/30/2009

The press has a habit of reporting from a position of ignorance. An example is in the recent reporting that the Iraqi Special Operations Force is now 10,000 strong.

The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Bureau is the unlegislated Iraqi equivalent to the US Department of Homeland Security and is currently 10,000 personnel according to its current boss. There is legislation pending in Parliment (for over a year now) to legally establish the CTB as a separate ministry. For now, the CTB is funded from the Prime Minister's contingency funds. The CTB answers directly to Iraqi Commander-in-Chief, the Prime Minister. That is what press is basing the claim that the Iraqi Special Operations Force is now 10,000 personnel. The reporters are confusing different elements of the Iraqi Security Forces.

The Iraqi Special Operations Force (ISOF) is officially the Iraqi Army Counter Terrorism Command. It is a 4,500 man force that is recruited equally from Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish elements. It is the Iraqi equivalent to the US Military's Special Operations Command and is funded by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. This is the subordinate "teeth" component that is currently under the operational command of the Counter Terrorism Bureau, but it also has a role supporting the Iraqi Army against external threats. There are two brigades in ISOF:

1st Special Operations Brigade is based at Baghdad and includes:

  • 1st Commando Battalion
  • 2nd Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force Battalion
  • 5th Reconnaissance Battalion
  • 3rd ISOF Brigade Support Battalion
  • 4th ISOF Training Battalion (otherwise called the Iraqi Special Warfare Center and School)
  • 15th Special Operations Squadron based at Taji and providing air detachments throughout Iraq.
2nd Special Operations Brigade commissioned June 1, 2009, is responsible for the Regional Commando Battalions (RCB):
  • 6th Regional Commando Battalion is based at Basrah
  • 7th Regional Commando Battalion is based at Mosul
  • 8th Regional Commando Battalion is based at Baqubah
  • 9th Regional Commando Battalion is based at Al Asad
  • ISOF Garrison Support Unit (Battalion) is based at Baghdad and has support detachments with each of the RCBs.
The Commando Battalions are the Iraqi equivalent to the US Rangers or UK Paras. The 2nd ICTF Battalion is the Iraqi equivalent to the US Delta Force or UK Special Air Service. US and UK Special Operations troops have worked with these forces since 2003. They were trained by US and UK Special Operations troops until their own training elements formed in 2006.

Since 2008, the recruiting for ISOF has been equally from personnel nominated by Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish tribal sheiks. From nomination they go to the Selection Course. Only half pass this course and go on to further training and service with ISOF. The bottom 50 percent are sent home.

The top 10 percent of the Selection Course go to the Operator Training Course. A little over half pass OTC. Graduation of OTC is required to join the 2nd ICTF Battalion.

The next 20 percent of the Selection Course and those that fail OTC go to the Commando Course. About 70 percent pass and go on to duty with a command battalion.

The remaining 20 percent and those that fail the Commando Course are assigned to the supporting logistics forces.

The disposition of the RCBs makes little geographic sense unless you consider the primary role of the Ministry of Defense. This is especially true when you note that there are no ISOF bases between Baghdad and Basrah.

The Ministry of Defense's primary duty is to protect against external threats. Internal security is its secondary duty. The Ministry of Interior is the primary internal security force. Like the UK's Special Air Service, the Iraqi Special Operations Force is available for internal security, but it retains a wartime special operations role with the Iraqi Army. It is organized and based for that wartime function.

The Iraqi Army plans to have four corps in its structure. The 1st Special Operations Brigade would be part of the Iraqi Ground Forces Command's reserve forces. Each of the RCBs in 2nd Special Operations Brigade are probably going to grow into separate brigades over the next five-to-ten years. They are based for special operations support of the four future Iraqi Army corps in a war with an external enemy:
  • 6th Commando Battalion: wartime support to the southern Corps.
  • 7th Commando Battalion: wartime support to the northern Corps.
  • 8th Commando Battalion: wartime support to the central Corps.
  • 9th Commando Battalion: wartime support to the Quick Intervention Corps.
Press reporting about the Iraqi Special Operations Force has been and continues to be wildly inaccurate. Most reporters do not have the basic knowledge of Iraqi Security Forces organization or even the basic military knowledge to accurately write about the Iraqi Security Forces.

DJ Elliott