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Iraqi Army (IA)
New Iraqi Army (NIA)

Iraqi ArmyIraq’s army was once a formidable military that waged an eight-year war with Iran. The US spent over $20 billion to train and equip Iraqi security forces. On 24 May 2015 US Defense Secretary Ash Carter criticized Iraq's reaction to Islamic State. He told CNN the IS takeover of Ramadi one week ago shows Iraqi forces do not have the "will to fight."

"What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered," Carter said. "In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. That says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves."

The head of the Iraqi parliament's defense and security committee, Hakim al-Zamili, told the Associated Press that Carter's comments were "unrealistic and baseless." He said the United States was trying to shift blame to Iraq for Washington's failure to provide "good equipment, weapons and aerial support" to Iraqi forces.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS. "Iraqi security forces face their own internal challenges... It's an uneven force in terms of will, equipment and leadership," Rice said, adding that the United States is working with them to address what she categorized as "weaknesses."

Islamic State extremists were able to capture Ramadi in mid-May 2015 because elite US-trained Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts 48 hours before the jihadis launched their final assault on the western Iraqi city. Their retreat left Iraqi units remaining in Ramadi and defending the strategic city dangerously exposed. The flight of Iraqi Special Forces in scenes reminiscent of the mass retreat of regular Iraqi soldiers last year from Mosul made it easier for Islamic State to take over Ramadi on 17 May 2015.

Marina Ottaway, a senior scholar with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Center, described Iraq’s military as well-trained and robust – but lacking morale. “They’re better trained than anybody else, and they have much larger numbers than anybody else,” Ottaway said, but “they don’t know what they are fighting for, or they are poorly led."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended Carter's remarks, saying the Iraqi government acknowledged that the setback in Ramadi was the result of a breakdown in command and planning. Moreover, Earnest said, the Iraqi forces in Ramadi had not benefited from US or allied training. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren elaborated on those remarks, noting that the Iraqi forces "vastly outnumbered their enemy yet they chose to withdraw." Warren cited a host of problems that preceded the Iraqi pullout from Ramadi. "Their morale had slipped, their leadership was not up to par. They believed that they were not receiving the support that they thought they needed," he said.

The United States called for a "greater commitment" from Iraq's government in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a congressional hearing 17 June 2015 that the US military had hoped to train 24,000 Iraqi security forces by this fall but had only received enough recruits to train about 9,000 so far. "We simply haven't received enough recruits," Carter said.

On August 16, 2015 Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi agreed with an investigative commission's recommendation to court martial Iraqi commanders who withdrew from Ramadi earlier this year as the city fell to Islamic State militants.

Iraq Train and Equip

As of June 30, 2011, the IA had a nominal strength of almost 200,000 soldiers — a force USF-I characterized as capable of maintaining domestic security with limited support from the U.S. military. Although the police had increased their size and capabilities — and had replaced IA units as the lead in some local areas, at that time the IA remained in the lead in 14 provinces, with operational control for security residing inseven regional operation commands.

The transfer of internal security to police would free up IA units to focus on the development of traditional combined-arms capabilities and external defense. Plans called for elements of four IA divisions to be withdrawn from domestic security operations in January 2012 for additional training by the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I) in combined-arms operations. As an initial step in this process, USF-I is helping the IA integrate mortarmen and combat engineers into the infantry units. US military advisors planned to start training IA mechanized infantry units on more advanced combined-arms tactics in July, including the proper use of 1,100 new armored personnel carriers, 140 M1 Abrams main battle tanks, and an array of modern indirect-fire systems.

The Iraq Army had been reduced to 10 of its former 14 Divisions following the onslaught of the ISIL advance. While the GoI was making efforts to recruit and train new personnel, they lack the ability to professionally train and equip the forces required to conduct counter-offensive operations, and need US and Coalition assistance. While the trend on the battlefield had been promising in stemming ISIL gains, Iraq lacked the training expertise and equipment to field the forces needed to liberate territory lost to ISIL, and to protect its population and critical infrastructure.

To successfully conduct counter-offensive operations, Iraq needed to train, equip and field three Iraqi Army Divisions (9 Brigades), three Kurdish Brigades, and an initial Tribal Force for an eventual Iraqi National Guard brigade. The GoI has requested US assistance to train and equip these forces.

The focus of DoD efforts is to work with, by and through the GoI to build the necessary military capability to counter ISIL. The program addresses the immediate equipping issues brought on by the rapid expansion of ISIL into Iraq and the requirements for counter-offensive operations. The GoI is lead and will share in the cost burden of creating these necessary forces; U.S. assistance levels are limited and are focused on bridging the most critical near-term capabilities consistent with countering ISIL. Coalition participation and financial support will also be actively sought to share costs.

Equipping the various Iraqi forces is dependent on Iraq’s ability to resource forces at the local, provincial, and national level. This program facilitates the counter-ISIL efforts by the Iraqi security forces, and builds the foundation for the new restructured future Iraq Army and the framework for the creation of the Iraq National Guard.

The draft of the US annual defense bill, which was released in April 2015 by the House Armed Services Committee, called on the US government to recognize separate Kurdish and Sunni states and provide them with at least 25 percent of the USD 715-million aid money allegedly planned to be given to the Iraqi government to help it fight the Daesh terrorist group.

The fight against Islamic State (IS) militants is at a stalemate, and if the US military does not see progress in coming months it should consider embedding troops with Iraqi forces, the army's retiring top general has said 13 August 2015. "See if that would make a difference... I think that's an option we should present to the president," said General Raymond Odierno, who retired as army chief of staff on August 14. Odierno said that partitioning the country “is something that could happen” and "might be the only solution.”

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