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The Missing Links – A Realistic Appraisal of the Iraqi Army

IA wire-July 2011

Iraqi Line Battalions as of July 2011.  Only the tank and BTR4 equipped battalions have anti-tank capabilities.


[I’m supposed to be working on a novel but, some fantasyland comments about the Iraqi Army have intruded into my science fiction writing.]


Recently a comment was made that the Iraqi Army is the best Arab army in the Mid-East.  That it had been trained by the US in Corps- and Division- level operations and thus was better than the rest of the Arab armies since they only effectively operate at Brigade-level.  This is pure fantasy – the IA doesn’t have Corps and only started expanding divisional communications this year.  Even the Iraqi Ministry of Defense never planned on the Iraqi Army being at that level of capabilities prior to 2020.


There are major differences between counter-insurgency operations and external security.  Low-intensity conflict [AKA COIN] is infantry- and intelligence-centric.  Combined Arms capabilities and large-scale unit operations, while useful, are not essential to COIN.  Armor, air defense, and artillery are not major players in COIN.  In high intensity conflict [AKA conventional warfare] armor, air, and artillery [etc] operating as large-scale combined arms make or break you.  The IA is only equipped and trained as a COIN force at this time.


The Iraqi Security Forces are on a planned development schedule.  Phase 1 is complete but, according to the Iraqi Minister of Defense, Phase 2 and 3 may be delayed in completion.


Phase 1 – Tactical Independence [2006-2010].

  • This is internal security only [COIN]. 
  • The Iraqi Army in the lead performing police functions.


Phase 2 – Operational Independence [2011-2015]. 

  • This is the beginning of the Iraqi Army training and transitioning to external security while the Federal Police start to take over internal security. 
  • Four IA Divisions [3rd, 5th, 7th, and 10th] started rotating battalions through US lead external security training in November 2010.  There are 14 divisions in the IA.  18-20 are planned.
  • The 8th IA Division was unofficially added to this external training in February 2011.
  • The 9th Division is still in the process of training on the new equipment [M1A1s/M113s/BTR4s/M109s/etc] being received and is not yet in this external defense program.
  • The IA is receiving additional armor, standing up its first howitzer equipped formations, its first chemical defense battalion, its first divisional signals battalions, additional engineers, and is mechanizing the 5th Division. ·         The FP is adding one or two divisions to expand its internal security capacity this year.
  • The Iraqi Air Force was going to buy F16s but, that money was diverted to welfare programs.  Iraq has no air defense at this time.
  • The helicopter assets of the Iraqi Air Force have been transferred to the IA, reducing the IqAF to a propeller-driven training, recon, and transport wing [7 squadrons].


Phase 3 – Strategic Independence [2016-2020].

  • This is the period that the IA plans to be external security with the Federal Police training on its secondary role as IA reserve infantry.  Local police taking over the lead for internal security with FP in over-watch.
  • During this period, the IqAF was expected to have a legit air defense.  Repeated delays in purchasing jet trainers and fighters make this goal unlikely to be met.


To some people, the IA seems large.  Taken in context of their neighbors strengths, they are weak.  Iran, Syria, and Turkey individually out-number and out-gun the IA in every measurable category.  Jordan, Saudi, and Kuwait individually out-number and out-gun the IA in all categories except infantry.  The smallest air force bordering Iraq has 100 jets - Iraq has none.  Kuwait, with the equivalent of only a reinforced Armored Division for an army, has more Tanks, MICVs, APCs, Howitzers, etc. than Iraq has.  Also note that half of these bordering countries are known to have chemical weapons. 


[I only gave the IA 2 weeks in a war with Iran’s 48 Army and RG divisions because of Iranian logistical deficiencies.]


This is a list of major deficiencies in the IA by unit-size.  It is not all-inclusive.  The FP and DBE are 5 years behind the IA in development – they would require their own book to list their problems:



  • No chemical defense suits or training.
  • No Air Defense [MANPADS].



  • No chemical defense.
  • No air defense.
  • No Anti-Tank capacity except in the few Tank Regiments [10 battalions] and the BTR4 equipping Commando Battalions [~10].  [RPGs are platoon and squad level.]



  • No chemical defense.  Each brigade should have a chemical defense company.
  • No air defense.  Each brigade should have an air defense battery.
  • No anti-tank capacity.  Each brigade should have an anti-tank company at minimum.
  • Most have no howitzers.  Operational howitzers only started fielding this year.  Each brigade is to have a field artillery battalion with 18 120mm mortars and 6 155mm howitzers.  [US field artillery battalions have all howitzers/MLRS.]
  • Most do not have Brigade Support Battalions.  Only the 6 brigades of the 9th Division and ISOF have Level 1 maintenance support.  This is part of the reason why half of the IA’s HMMWVs are inoperable.



  • No chemical defense.  The first IA chemical defense regiment [battalion] formed this year.  Each division should have a chemical defense battalion.
  • Most do not have adequate communications.  Only 3 of the divisions have commissioned signals battalions this year.
  • While each division has an Engineer Regiment [battalion], the heavy divisions will require a brigade.  Only one division is expanding its engineers.
  • No air defense.  Each division should have an air defense battalion.
  • Limited anti-tank capacity.  Only just starting to equip the divisional commando battalions with BTR4/Barrier ATGW.
  • Most divisions have no howitzers.  Operational howitzers only started fielding this year in 2 battalions.  Each division is to have 2-3 field artillery battalions [regiments] with 18-24 155mm howitzers or MLRs each.  [US field artillery battalions have all howitzers/MLRS.]
  • Most divisions do not have Maintenance Battalions.  Only the 9th Division has a maintenance battalion.  Most level 1, 2, or 3 maintenance support has to be done at the level 4 facilities [Taji].


  • Non-existent.  There should be 4-5 corps in the IA.
  • While the Joint Operational Commands can provide corps-level command and control, most do not have adequate communications and do not provide combat and logistics support.
  • No air defense.  Corps’ normally have Air Defense Brigades.
  • No combat reserve.  Corps’ normally have 1-2 independent line brigades to commit to key areas.
  • No rear-area security.  1-2 Military Police or infantry brigades are normally assigned to provide convoy security and patrol the rear-areas of each corps.
  • No artillery.  Corps’ normally have 1-2 Field Artillery Brigades each to provide heavy fire-support.
  • No Level 3 support.  No Sustainment Brigades.  The absence of Level 1 and 3 maintenance and logistical support is why the IA has large numbers of vehicles inoperable and fuel shortages when only in a low-intensity conflict.  In a conventional war, High-Intensity Conflict, the IA would collapse.



  • IGFC can provide army-level command and control, logistics and maintenance but, it is overwhelmed having to fill the role of both Army and 4 corps’ worth of support.
  • Iraqi supply is still a pull system where you request support/supplies and then wait.  They need to correct that.  The US Army uses a push system where supply needs are anticipated by higher level and provided without request.
  • While the APC component is progressing, the IA is not acquiring sufficient tanks and anti-tank capabilities to go with them.  The IA needs to purchase at least an additional 400-600 tanks to operate with the 420 BTR4 and over 600 M113A2s APCs that are starting to arrive.
  • The number of howitzers procured so far only equips 2 of the 14 existing divisions.  The IA needs enough for all its forces including corps’ level artillery brigades, plus enough to support the FP and DBE in their wartime infantry roles.
  • Air defense does not exist at any level.
  • Most divisions have no anti-tank capability beyond squad-level RPGs.



  • No air defense.  Who cares how bad your neighbor’s air force is when you have nothing to oppose it with…
  • Still standing up Sector Operations Centers so they can watch the enemy bomb them unopposed.
  • No jets.  Not even trainers.  Until they have the aircraft and support equipment, they can’t train on them.  It takes 3-5 years of training before a fighter squadron is combat effective after it is equipped.  You can’t train on what you don’t have.  Iraq needs a minimum of 5 operational fighter squadrons – preferably 10.



  • No air or air defense.
  • Capable of inshore work but, the lack of missile capability makes them vulnerable in engagements away from the radar-seeker shadow of the coast.

The IA is on par with the ROK Army in June 1950 – missing major capabilities and only capable of internal security, but without the terrain advantages of Korea.  The Iraqi Army is progressing almost on schedule.  But it is not ready to stand alone and never was planned to stand alone at this time.  2012 was a political date – not a realistic one 


Related:  ISF OOB


An interesting and revealing assessment DJ, all the more surprising that anyone would debate your knowledge of the subject but I digress. Allow me to play devils advocate for a moment, because what you have been saying all along about the Iraqi's lack of logistics and sustainment support has had me thinking; when looked at in isolation, just how capable are Iraq's neighbors in supporting and supplying military operations outside their own borders? I mean aside from Israel because of their purely defensive nature and Turkey because of (nearly) guaranteed NATO support on any expeditionary mission they undertake, just how effective is say the Syrians or the Jordanians or the Saudis or even Kuwait for that matter? I have to believe that most of the countries keep their armies around for defensive purposes and therefore logistics are simply limited to keeping their forces supplied within their own borders. Syria hasn't undertaken any major offensive operation since 1971 and with a couple of notable exceptions (namely Desert Storm) we rarely see any sort of expeditionary capability from them. (although as recent events show, they are devastatingly effective when operating from within their borders.) Kuwait after 1991 was retooled with US support to be an abjectly defensive force too, so any offensive operations undertaken buy their forces alone would run into difficulty. Now to be fair Iraq is also modeling its forces to be defensive in nature like their neighbors and given the fact that the IA is still a very immature force overall, just how much better is the region in terms of readiness and operational sustainment than Iraq? And has the IA reached a minimum standard of capability yet or are they just a static defense force?

Trophy_Wench (07/11/2011 03:08:51)


Hi DJ Iraq is in talks to buy 36 f16 upgrading it order because of high oil prices as well as Iraq wants to buy air defense systems to with it. My own assessment we will hear something in august and my be in December.

Jack winters (07/11/2011 10:54:20)


Hi DJ Here is the kink

Jack winters (07/11/2011 10:59:03)


Thanks Jack. ///// TW: Remember. Logistics limits are based on distances from your logistics centers and the road network supporting truck movement. /// As I mentioned, Iran's logistics would slow them up after the first advances. I figure 48 hours to secure up to the Tigris, 1 week to the Euphraties, and 2 weeks to all Iraq. The slowdown would be because of IRANIAN logistics and bridging issues. Take a good look at what that means in terms of Iraq's population and cities. Iran is the problem... ///// Jordan's and Syria's logistics are mostly in the west focused on Israel. Jordan could get Rutbah District [W Anbar] with its logistics and single road route. ///// Syria could support a line from Mosul ssw to Hadithah and then roughly sw to Ar Rutbah. /// Kuwait could take Basrah/Dhi Qar/Muthanna areas south of the Euphraties. Lack of bridging and trucks would stop them there. That eliminates 80 percent of Iraqs Oil export. //// Saudi also is short bridging equipment but, could reach to the Euphraties line as far north as Babil/Karbala plus a bit of South Anbar. Saudi logistics would be based at the tri-border [KKMC] and Ar Ar [road to Karbala via Nukhayb]. //// Also keep in mind that Saudi and Kuwait are GCC allies - the PSF is home based at KKMC. //// Turkey actually has the worst invasion logistics route. Limited roads through Kurdish mountains...

DJ Elliott (07/12/2011 12:33:20)


TW: PS The standard US military line in describing the IA is a "minimaly effective COIN force." The IA only started training in external defense 9 months ago. Only half the battalions of 5 IA divisions have received this external defense training. Most of those battalions do not have anything better than RPGs for anti-tank. Only 2 of those Divs have some howitzers they are training on. And no air defense...

DJ Elliott (07/12/2011 12:55:26)


Okay that makes a lot of sense, thank for clarifying DJ but do you think that Iraq would buy into heavy engineering equipment (bridging vehicles, dozers etc.) in the future or build up their engineers along similiar lines to their neighbors? (obviously mine/IED clearing and EOD take precedence. Also, nice bump on DID as well!)

Trophy Wench (07/13/2011 12:04:31)


It looks like the IA is already planning to expand to and Engineering Brigade in the Heavy Divisions - 9th has a Field Engineer Regiment and a Field Bridging Regiment. Standard US Army structure before modularization was a Bde in the heavy divs and a bn in the light divs.

DJ Elliott (07/13/2011 08:11:13)


F4 Phantoms for Iraq?

DJ Elliott (07/23/2011 09:55:59)


I'm told that the Arabic word for stealth translates as Phantom in google. Problem is the price is too low for stealth birds...

DJ Elliott (07/24/2011 12:04:34)


Hi DJ Iraq has been getting offers from the Uk to sell it the eurofighter, the French are also in talks to sell Iraq Rafal fighters, which are both with some stealth capability because they want to compete with F16 offer. Check the Iraqi militery forum links. Here is an update on the btr4

Jack winters (07/24/2011 08:49:57)


That is quite interesting though DJ. But could you imagine? What are the youngest Phantoms still left hanging around AMARC, 30, 35 years old? Even if they wanted them their best bet would be ex Luftwaffe or HAF, maybe Korea or Turkey? That would be funny though! As for the Eurofighter/Rafale business, that doesn't surprise me. Like I've been saying all along its only a matter of time before the French start throwing them at the Iraqis. Typhoon though; an interesting choice but likely waaay too expensive.

Trophy Wench (07/24/2011 10:00:34)


TW: My suspicion was that the ROKAF was going to transfer the 68 F4Es being replaced with F15Ks. Sweetner for the T50 and future FA50 buys. The advantage is the immediate delivery. Everything else is 3-4 years in delivery....

DJ Elliott (07/24/2011 11:13:11)


Hi DJ I've read the report in Arabic and I can asure you that the report was not talking about F4 . And I think we've talked so long that you know my background so forget about the F4. The talk now in Iraq is that in order to keep the US troops in Iraq it would need a two thirds majority in parliament , that is not going to happen because of the sader movement . What the pm is talking about now for some time is that Iraq is going to request advisers and trainers those don't need parliament approval the number is between two to three thousand no more. If you want an update go to aswat al Iraq page. In terms of fighters Iraq is going to get f16 simply because the block 52 is half the price of the other fighters plus it help keeps the US involved. The big buzz now is that there is a lot of talk about the air defense system which is probably going to be the advanced hawk system, this news is coming out because of iraq's choice of radar the an/tps77 the fact that it's a mobile system is what is making the news what do you think?

Jack winters (07/25/2011 03:24:16)


Mobile SAMs are good so long as you keep relocating them. Makes SEAD and strike planning harder. I-Hawk is a good point-defense missile. A SAM Bn per Div would be best. Plus extras for key points.

DJ Elliott (07/25/2011 11:15:45)


Here's my question: What do they mean by 700 tanks? I count 140 M1A1, ~120 T72, and ~76 T55. 336 total. The BMP1s are not tanks and the numbers don't fit. Also, the M1A1s are the only "Advanced" Tanks in that mix. Are they saying they are buying 700 more M1A1s? 700 total. Something is off on that statement.

DJ Elliott (07/25/2011 11:30:02)


What was canx? Details... ///// Kapri MRAPs to mororize the IA or FP?

DJ Elliott (07/25/2011 08:45:58)


Hi DJ In terms of the 700 tanks in the report, the word advanced translated in the text was wrong they ment ahead, they actually counted the 350 t55 and the t62 tanks of the Kurdish pashmerga in the mix, part of the defense force. As for the report and that the FMS deal has been cancelled that just political talk no other news organization took up that news, although there is crtisism in Iraq that the program tends to over exagerat the numbers, an extensive paper work system that requests funds in front and in full, plus the parlement lack of understanding of the program that it is a US program but provides Russian hardware so to them a Russian helo shouldn't cost the price of an US made helo this is what they are referring to as corruption. The kapri is not an order it's just the company saying that we want to sell the system and it's kind of tested, there is no mention that it has been sold to anyone just an advertisement.

Jack winters (07/26/2011 02:55:38)


DJ What going on with bell 407 there is no news nothing about that, the other thing Iraq in 2008 ordered the c130 but didn't get it yet, and countries like Qatar who ordered after in 2009 are getting there's now? And by the way I think you should revise the numbers in the OOB the king air 350 are only 5 ISR all the sources are confirming this number and 1 transport. And only 3 bulldog with hellfire that's it not 8 By the way the EC 635 are army aviation the gazell are recon and the bell 407 are for SOF.

Jack winters (07/26/2011 03:08:19)


The 3 trainers are still training. The armed versions are not due to start arriving until August. No idea on the C130Js. Need a better cite with link on the numbers to offset the reported orders. 8x C208 of which only 3 have hellfire capability - fixed that.

DJ Elliott (07/26/2011 09:34:09)


Jack: I can only account for 81 operational tanks in the Peshmerga. You're talking about enough additional tanks for 2 mech divs...

DJ Elliott (07/26/2011 02:42:24)


Hi DJ I have no idea where they came up with the number , but like you I think it's fals, the report I read wasn't the actual report but parts and peaces just like the English written report. So I wouldn't put too much into it uless their is a second source. DJ when are the Iraq progress report coming out or did they stop?

Jack winters (07/27/2011 05:30:18)


It is possible that the KRG has 350 tanks aquired in 2003 from 1st Mech, 5th Mech, and 3rd Armored Divs in the north. [They had ~700 but, only 81 are reported in operational KRG units.] They are not necissarily currently operational. //// Here's the questions: Why is the IMoD including KRG tanks in its report? //// Are they expecting to add them to the IA OOB soon? //// Say to the Kurdish manned Bdes in 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 12th Divs? [Rpt of a Tank Rgt forming at K1.] //// Are they already refurbishing them for issue? //// Could the T55s in 12/3 Bde be from KRG vice 9th Div? //// Part of the deal where KRG troops are training at IA facilities? //// No comprehensive details of that agreement as yet... ////// Pentagon keeps saying "soon". Been saying that since January. It's only a semi-annual vice quarterly requirement now. Last released report was June 2010.

DJ Elliott (07/27/2011 01:41:02)


Hi DJ Take from me there is now the KRG are going to give tanks to the iraqi army, the iraqi army doesn't want them and the krg won't give them, they might have included them only for political resons, so the shia could say we have enough forces that's it.

jack winters (07/27/2011 07:08:31)


Not give. Trade inoperable tanks for usefull training and equipping. Some deal was made that allows KRG troops to train at IA facilities. The IA has the ability to make them operational. KRG doesn't. That would be a good trade...

DJ Elliott (07/27/2011 07:48:55)


DJ it's a very complicated relashinship, both don't trust each other there is no way in hell that the Kurds are going to give those tanks and the army it self does not want them, they are useless old tanks. The only rezone that baghdad agreed to some small deal is because of the politics ,but in no way the peshmerga will be under the control of the army because that will mean they are under the control of Baghdad and anyone who lives in Iraq knows that barzani will never let that happen. So please drop the idea about Kurdish tanks they are rubbish.

Jack winters (07/27/2011 09:34:48)


Jack: Do you have a link to where it said that the tanks in the report included Peshmerga holdings?

DJ Elliott (07/27/2011 09:43:11)


Jack: A deal was made. It includes RGB personnel going to all the schools at Taji - including the intel school. I'm seeing KRG RGB training at most of the IA facilities Baghdad and north - including in Anbar. I have yet to see what the Kurds gave to get that access. If they gave up T55s and T62s that the KRG can't make operational and the IA can - more power to them. Tanks are not much use in mountain terrain. If the guns are functional - then they double the IA's existing anti-tank capability. Then there is the upgrade options. //// Don't knock them because they are not new. Israel still uses WWII vintage Sherman hulls. Egypt sent T55s to Ukraine for the T55AGM upgrade this year. The Syrian divisions in eastern Syria are T55 equipped. Jordan, Iran and Turkey still use M48s. Saudi still has AMX-30s in active inventory along with M60s. The only country in the entire region that does not use comparable vintage tanks to the T55/T62 is Kuwait - they lost their older armor in 1990 and had to do a full replacement. /// Look up the T55 upgrade and notice that it puts a 125mm or 120mm on T54/55/59/62 tanks. Any armor is better than none and right now Iraq can't afford all new. /// If nothing else, they would be usefull to train combined-arms to until the IA gets better...

DJ Elliott (07/27/2011 10:43:00)


PS Where is the IA getting tanks for the newly mechanizing 5th and 7th Divs? And how is it they have enough to be looking at a tank regiment for the 12th Div? ///// Jul27: “This base will eventually be turned over from Location Command to the 12th Iraqi Army Division,” said Hall. “The 12th IA is planning on using the K1 facility to support a new tank regiment that is forming. The regiment is not on the ground yet, but it is in the working for the future.” (Kirkuk getting armor? 12th Div to be heavy?) //// Don't disregard any possibility - Hitler signed a non-agreession pact with Stalin - anything is possible.

DJ Elliott (07/27/2011 11:02:08)


Hi DJ Iraqi PM has said today that Iraq is about to make a deal with the US ,to buy 36 F-16 rather than 18. here is the Link....

Jack Winters (07/30/2011 06:19:04)


Saw that. I'll believe it when they are on the tarmac at Ali and/or Balad. The reports of F16 buys have been on again/off again for 4 years now...

DJ Elliott (07/30/2011 10:19:47)

DJ Elliott