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Speculation on Iraqi Army Armor Forces by 2014


As reported in June 2010, the Iraqi Army is getting significant amounts of used US Army equipment through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process for Excess Defense Articles (EDA).  This equipment includes:

  • 1026 - M113 Family of Vehicles,
  • 120 - M198 towed howitzers,
  • 21 - M88A1 armored recovery vehicles,
  • 60 - M1070s heavy equipment transporters,
  • 24 - M109A5 self propelled howitzers,
  • 30 - Fuel tankers,
  • Equipment for a strategic bridge company.


The BTR-4 order mix has also been clarified and the number of command and staff vehicles in that order indicates at least 2 divisions are planned for this 1st of 5 Ukrainian orders.  Alternatively, these vehicles could be used for Corps’ Troops - providing field headquarters, security and reconnaissance vehicles for the 4-5 planned corps HQs.  This initial order starts delivery in October and is to be completed by 2014:

  • 270 BTR-4 APCs,
  • 80 BTR-4K Command Vehicles,
  • 30 BTR-4Ksh Staff Vehicles,
  • 30 BSEM-4K Ambulances,
  • 10 BREM-4K Repair and Recovery Vehicles.


Combined with existing and ordered armor [E.G. 280 M1A1s], these additions indicates that Iraq plans to have 3 to 5 heavy divisions by 2014.  The variance in this estimate is due to some unanswered questions concerning [but not limited to]:

  • How many more BTR-4s are being ordered?  How many tanks of which type are to be ordered to go with these BTR-4s?  MOP-4K Fire-Support Vehicles?  The existing order indicates 2 divisions are planned as there are too many command and staff vehicles in the mix for 1 division but, only about 7.5 battalions worth of APCs are in this mix and the supporting BREM-4K numbers are less than a brigade’s worth.  This is probably a partial order and/or could be Corps’ HQ/ Recon troops. 
  • Is the organization of the Iraqi armored battalions shifting to a 2x2 mix of tank and mechanized companies?  This would make for weaker armored battalions in terms of tank fire-power but, improves the mix of mechanized infantry support.  The current US structure is the 2x2 combined arms battalion structure vice the traditional 3x1 mix and the Iraqi Army is using a modified US structure as its basis. 
  • Which Iraqi formations are getting this armor?  In what order?  There are more identified candidate divisions/brigades for mechanized or armored upgrade that there is armor ordered/existing.  Is the IA spreading the armor or keeping it concentrated?  Or a mix?  Keeping the armor concentrated around Baghdad or dispersing the armor in border divisions?


The best (g)estimate is that the Iraqi Army is going to upgrade to 3-4 heavy divisions and plus the 56th Brigade to mechanized/armored forming a heavy reaction corps in the Baghdad area by 2014.  A 4th or 5th heavy division will probably be starting conversion in 2014 and by then the border divisions will start rotating in for upgrade.  Since the Armor and Mechanized Schools are in Baghdad province, the lead candidates for initial upgrade are in the Baghdad area or planned to rotate to Baghdad.  Additionally, the formations that already have some armor or have been receiving armor training are the most likely to be upgraded:

  • 9th Mechanized Division in north Baghdad is being upgraded with M1A1 tanks and is turning over its Soviet-designed armor to other forces.  It may be upgrading to an armored division.
  • 56th Brigade personnel have been trained as M113 crew indicating this brigade is in the process of converting to armor, mechanized, or combined arms.  Administratively the 56th Brigade is assigned to the 6th Division; however, it is actually an independent brigade directly under the office of the Commander-in-Chief and is responsible for guarding the International Zone in Baghdad.
  • 11th Division in eastern Baghdad has 1 BMP1-equipped battalion [3-44/11] and 1 MTLB-equipped battalion [1-42/11].  This makes the 11 Division a prime candidate for upgrade to mechanized since 2 different brigades in the division already have a battalion of mechanized.
  • 17th Division in southern Baghdad recently conducted an exercise in which its infantry was photographed deploying from Bradley APCs.  The 17th Division has been regularly augmented by 9th Division armor and this could mean they are training preparatory to receiving APCs that have a similar rear-ramp type access [M113 or BTR4].
  • 1st Division in eastern Anbar is equipped with at least 3 battalions of wheeled armored cars and APCs, primarily in 3rd Brigade.  This division operates as part of the Iraqi Army Strategic Reserve Quick Reaction Force.  An upgrade to mechanized or light mechanized [BTR4s] would be in keeping with its tasking.
  • Iraqi Special Operations Force personnel have been trained in maintaining BTR80-type vehicles indicating they are getting the BTR80s from the 37/9 Brigade and possibly some of the BTR4s from the Ukraine.  The ISOF Regional Commando Battalions are expected to fill the role of Corps’ reconnaissance brigades.
  • 7th Division’s 29th Brigade in western Anbar has 2 BMP1 equipped battalions [1-29/7 and 2-29/7].  This indicates the 29 Brigade is planned to be an armor brigade and the division a candidate for upgrade.  Also of note, one of the 3 tracked vehicle maintenance facilities in the Iraqi Army is co-located with the 7th Division’s maintenance units.
  • 3rd Division’s 10th Brigade in western Ninawa has 1 battalion equipped with M113s.  This makes this brigade and the division a candidate for upgrade. 
  • 5th Division’s 20th Brigade in Diyala has 1 battalion [2-20/5] equipped with M113s.  This makes this brigade and the division a candidate for upgrade.
  • 8th Division or the planned 18th/19th Division in Wassit.  The 1-33/8 Battalion has had personnel trained in maintaining BMP1s indicating the battalion is receiving them soon.  This makes the battalion and its parent 33rd Brigade candidates for upgrade but, the 8th Division is planned to split and the components being upgraded may be destine for the planned 18th or 19th Divisions.


The known mix of additional howitzers combined with existing salvaged guns supports a minimum of 3 upgraded divisions.  However, this does not include unconfirmed reports of purchases of multiple-rocket launchers from Serbia, other unreported purchases, and possible additional salvaged artillery.  Also, some of the known artillery could be going to non-mechanized divisions.


The announced orders fit for 3 additional heavy division support elements (-) in addition to the existing support elements in 9th Mechanized Division, indicating 4 planned heavy division support components by 2014 with a 5th forming.  However, the number of tanks in this mix is insufficient for 4 heavy divisions, which could indicate that the IA intends to fill out the tank numbers with Ukrainian armor.


With 3-5 heavy divisions, the Iraqi Army will be able to react to a major incursion by 2014, and will start upgrading border divisions in key areas by rotating upgrading divisions to Baghdad and replacing them on the borders with already upgraded divisions in 2015/2016.  At this point, the Iraqi Army appears to be initially forming a heavy mechanized reaction corps, probably based in central/western Iraq by 2015.  This will be followed in Phase 3 [2016-2020] with rotating and mechanizing the key border sectors.


DJ Elliott