Cordesman starts off by saying that the U.S. government has consistently misrepresented the capabilities of the ISF. He writes, “To date, the Department of Defense reporting on the progress in Iraqi forces development has been fundamentally misleading and lacking in integrity, and has done a major disservice in leading the Congress and others to have unrealistic expectations of what can be accomplished within a given timeframe.” He gives many examples to support this. One was that the March 2008 quarterly Pentagon report to Congress claimed that Iraqi forces were successfully maintaining security in Basra after it had been turned over to their control by the British. That month Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched an offensive there to assert government control over a city he claimed had become lawless under various Shiite militias and criminals. There are other examples such as consistently relying upon aggregate statictics like the number of Iraqis trained by the U.S., while never stating how many of those actually still serve. The fact is, the Americans have no idea what that number is. He also cites the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction who found that the Defense Department often changes it methodologies to determine Iraqi readiness from report to report as well.
The problems with American reporting don’t mean the Iraqi forces have not made actual gains. For the first time, Iraqi forces carried out large-scale operations in Basra, Sadr City, and Mosul by the time the report was written. They were able to move large numbers of soldiers and police in short order from place to place, and used the Iraqi Air Force for re-supply missions and troop movement. Beforehand the ISF were mostly doing checkpoint work. Cordesman however, questions how effective they were in each operation.
In Basra, Sadr City, and Mosul he sees mixed results. In Basra, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rushed the operation, leading to a lack of planning, training, and logistics for Iraqi forces. The Mahdi Army was able to hold its ground, while the ISF ran into supply problems that were solved with U.S. and British help, and hundreds ended up deserting. As one British officer on the scene reported:
“There were literally thousands of troops arriving in Basra from all over Iraq. But they had no idea why they were there or what they were supposed to do. It was madness and to cap it all they had insufficient supplies of food, water and ammunition. …. One of the newly formed brigades was ordered into battle and suffered around 1,200 desertions within the first couple of hours – it was painful to watch. … They had to be pulled out because they were a busted flush. The Iraqi police were next to useless. There were supposed to be 1,300 ready to deploy into the city, but they refused to do so. The situation deteriorated to the extent where we [the British Army] were forced to stage a major resupply operation in order to stave off disaster.”
In the end, the fighting was inconclusive, and after five days Moqtada al-Sadr issued a cease-fire. It was only then that the Iraqi forces were able to sweep into Sadrist strongholds and clear them. In Sadr City, the ISF also had a mixed performance with the Americans doing most of the heavy fighting. Again, Sadr called a cease-fire and that allowed Iraqi forces to secure the area. In Mosul, Cordesman believes the government did a much better job, arrested a large number of insurgents and reducing attacks by 85%. Even then, Maliki announced the offensive so far in advance, that many top insurgents fled the city before the crackdown.
The larger problems Cordesman sees are institutional to the ISF. First, the forces have had a massive expansion over a very short period of time. When General Petraeus reported to Congress in April 2008 for example, he said that 133,000 soldiers and police had been added to the security forces in the last 16 months. That process is not finished, as Maliki wants to add 50,000 new soldiers and 23,000 police. This has created a shortage of non-commissioned and regular officers, supplies, and training. The Army is doing better with these problems, while the police appear to still be a mess. Local police are under municipal and provincial control with little coordination with Baghdad. Many of these officers receive no training as a result. The Facilities Protection Services that use to be under the command of individual ministries, are now suppose to be part of the Interior Ministry, but it will take years to integrate them. The Army is becoming much more of a national force in comparison. The one exception is the paramilitary National Police. The force was once known for Shiite death squads, but it has been extensively reformed. The entire ISF still has problems with manning. To fix this, many Iraqi army units are going over their required troop levels, but even then Cordesman estimates that any given battalion only has 50% of its soldiers on duty at any given time. Only 2 Iraqi Army divisions consistently have their full compliment of troops. Baghdad has also taken over more responsibility for funding Iraqi forces, but is still not up to the task. The government is good at paying salaries, but the Defense Ministry only spent 11.8% of its capital budget, the Interior Ministry 11.1%. Iraq is also looking for other sources of weapons besides the Americans, but many of these deals have been wracked with corruption.
The overall picture Cordesman paints is of an Iraqi security force that is still a work in progress. The ISF made huge gains in being able to operate in three different cities in different parts of the country in short order. They were also able to impose security after two cease-fires by the Sadrists. The Army is more advanced than the police, although the National Police have improved. More and more Iraqis are signing up, and the government is responsible for more than half of the expenses of the Defense and Interior Ministries. The tasks ahead are still large. Most army and police units are not fully manned, there are still logistics and supply problems, the police are local in nature, leaving control to tribes and parties rather than the central government, and many are untrained. Corruption and sectarianism are still issues in the ministries, and they can’t spend the majority of their budgets. Cordesman’s greatest worry appears to be that Iraqi and U.S. politicians will feel that the Iraqi forces are better than they actual are. For example, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is demanding a timetable for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, partly because of his belief that the ISF is ready to take over security in Iraq. Baghdad has claimed that it can take control of all of Iraq’s eighteen provinces by December 2008. Iraq however, has never met any of its deadlines for security handovers. On the American side, Congress is demanding that the Iraqis pay for more and more of their security. As pointed out earlier, while they have the money, they are currently incapable of spending much of it at all beyond paying for salaries. That means they will continue to rely upon American forces to support them, but Congress may cut that off because of the false expectations Cordesman writes about. Iraq is heading towards a new period in its post-invasion history, but how it will turn out is still up in the air. Cordesman provides some important points on military issues that need to be considered as Iraq moves forward.
Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraqi Force Development,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 2008