Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rebuilding Iraq’s Army In A Warzone

Immediately after the 2003 invasion, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) did not think a new Iraqi army was necessary. Many American officials in Iraq believed that a strong military would bring back memories of Saddam Hussein amongst the Kurdish and Shiite populations. Even when the CPA finally began to see the errors of its ways it still wanted a small and light force. As security quickly deteriorated in the country, the U.S. was forced to recognize that a new military was needed to take on the insurgents and militias. Still, the effort was done in a haphazard way. The ultimate goal was to stand up Iraqi forces so that the American troops could withdraw. Again and again this plan was shelved as violence grew in the country. It wasn’t until the middle of 2004 that the U.S. finally put in place the organizations that would eventually create a new Iraqi security force. It would still take years for this to be anything close to an effective institution, and the effort suffered from many setbacks.

Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) originally thought that an army would be a threat to the new Iraq. His second order was to disband the Defense Ministry and the armed forces in May 2003. It took three months for him to start to understand that was a mistake. The Central Command (CENTCOM) and Coalition commander in Iraq General Ricardo Sanchez also began pushing for a force to deal with the burgeoning insurgency. That led to CPA Order Number 22 in August, which authorized the creation of a new Iraqi military. The next month CPA Order Number 28 crated the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. Bremer wanted the army to be under civilian control, protect the country from foreign threats, and follow the rule of law. The force was supposed to eventually grow to be 40,000 strong in three light divisions, which would take one and a half years to create. The Corps however, was going to be a separate entity directly under the U.S. military, rather than Iraqi control, and would be focused upon internal security. As with many things the United States attempted in Iraq in those early years, this effort suffered from a lack of planning, not enough resources, a shortage of money, not enough trainers, and increasing violence. Bremer believed that keeping the Iraqi Army would be maintaining a force that helped keep Saddam Hussein in power, and one, which had oppressed the population. The new Iraq was to be a democracy where the police would be the main force to maintain order, and any military would just be a small, non-threatening one to protect the borders. The ever changing situation in Iraq however meant those early ideas were going to be scrapped very soon.  
The Iraqi Civil Defense Corps was a paramilitary organization put together in response to the worsening security situation in 2003 (Global Security)
In June 2003, the CPA started work on putting together a new Iraqi military. General Paul Eaton was placed in charge of a new training mission. He quickly found out that neither the CPA nor the U.S. military cared much about rebuilding the army. The only thing he got was a 24-page PowerPoint slide show from the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), $173 million, and a staff of five. He was also worried that because the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps would answer to the U.S. military, it would undermine the new Iraqi government the Americans were trying to create. Even with the lack of resources, and the muddled concept, Eaton pushed ahead, and wanted the first group of soldiers to start training on August 1. The first light division was supposed to be deployed by 2004, the second in 2005, and the third by 2006. Each batch of soldiers was supposed to be vetted for any Baathists ties, and former Saddam era officers were to be barred. Eventually, the CPA appropriated $3.24 billion out of the original $18.4 billion from the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund for the Iraqi security forces. Everything was thrown for a turn when in November, the Coalition announced that it was going to turn over sovereignty to the Iraqis in the middle of 2004. That meant there was less time to achieve Eaton’s goals. His plans had to be revised as a result. At the same time, the U.S. military began pulling back to their bases during the summer. The plan was to give more responsibility to the Iraqis for their own security, so that the United States could withdraw. This was the first of many attempts to get the U.S. out of Iraq. The worsening security situation always sunk these plans.

While things were muddling along on the ground in Iraq, back in Washington the White House was presenting everything as going according to plan. In October, the Bush administration told Congress that there were 70,000 Iraqis in the police, army, and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, and 13,000 more in training. Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed that the Pentagon was playing with the numbers. He said that one week the Defense Department said there were 20,000 in the Iraqi security forces, then that jumped to 80,000, then 100,000, and finally 120,000. Bremer was critical as well, saying that Defense was exaggerating the figures, so that it could get out of Iraq. Even General Sanchez chimed in that the Pentagon was inflating the numbers. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld retorted that the Pentagon was simply changing how it counted personnel. The Iraq war exposed deep divisions within the administration. Before and after the invasion, the White House often spoke with many, and sometimes contradictory voices about the progress of the conflict. The creation of a new Iraqi military was no different. Defense and President Bush always wanted to put a positive spin on events, while the State Department was often critical, because of the rivalry between Powell and Rumsfeld. Those on the ground like Bremer and General Sanchez had another opinion. The truth was putting together new Iraqi security forces was going as badly as the overall reconstruction effort.

From late 2003 to early 2004, the problems with the Iraqi military were beginning to be exposed. In December 2003, 50% of the first battalion of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps deserted while on leave. There was a review of the American National Guard units that were training the Iraqi army, which found that they were not qualified to do the job. The CPA began souring on the training mission as well. In February 2004, Keith Mines, the lead CPA official in Anbar province, wrote a report stating that the Iraqi forces there were being put on duty before they were ready. Colonel T.X. Hammes, who was involved in the training program, said that it was failing, and that the statements made by the White House about the progress the Americans were making was a “fantasy.” Putting together the Iraqi military was a rushed and ad hoc job from the beginning. It was to be expected that it would run into these growing pains early on, since it lacked in depth and advanced planning.

By the end of 2003, even the Pentagon was aware of the problems going on in Iraq. In November, Rumsfeld sent an assessment team led by General Karl Eikenberry to review the development of the security forces. He released his report in February 2004. It found that the CPA didn’t have enough staff for the training mission, and lacked planning. It said that it would take months for the Iraqi forces to take over from the U.S. military. To speed up the process it suggested that the American forces should take over training. Rumsfeld agreed with the findings, which led to the creation of the Office of Security Cooperation. General Eaton took over command of that office in March. It also led to General David Petraeus being appointed to lead the training operation in the middle of 2004. Six months after the training mission was created, it was in for another change. There would be a new commander, new trainers, and revised curriculum. This new emphasis would bring about some needed revisions to the creation of the new Iraqi forces, but at the same time there were still many more problems to overcome.

Despite any differences that might have been voiced between the military on the ground and the civilians back in Washington, both were united in their hopes for what the new Iraqi army could mean. In March 2004, General Sanchez said that as more Iraqi security personnel were deployed, the U.S. forces would retreat to their bases outside of the cities. The next month, it was reported that there were 45 Defense Corps battalions with 36,000 personnel. They were to take over daily security duties from the Americans, with the U.S. only providing support. This was supposed to allow the Pentagon to reduce troop levels from 130,000 to 115,000. The number of forward operating bases was to be cut from 60 in June 2003 to eight by May 2004. This was the first serious attempt at withdrawing from Iraq. Bremer doubted whether the Iraqi forces would be ready for this enhanced role. He turned out to be right as Iraq erupted in a new wave of violence during the spring of 2004.

Early 2004 witnessed simultaneous Sunni and Shiite militant uprisings. Insurgents and the Mahdi Army fought the Coalition and Iraqi forces in Fallujah, Baghdad, Ramadi, Samarra, Tikrit, Najaf, and Sadr City. The Iraqis largely refused to fight, some fled, while some ended up helping the militants. From April 4 to the 16, 12,000 of the 36,000 Iraqi Civil Defense Corps deserted. In Anbar alone, 82% of the force quit. In Fallujah, only 15 soldiers out of 2,200 stayed on their post. The commander of the 1st Armored Division said that 40% of the Iraqi soldiers in his sector walked off their job, while 10% were for the other side. Some Marine units had to confiscate equipment and weapons from the Iraqis out of fear that they would fall into the hands of insurgents or militias. It was the Americans, rather than the new Iraqi military that ultimately put down the spring’s violence. This torpedoed all of the U.S. security plans, including the withdrawal. CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid stated afterward that the Iraqi forces would not be ready until September at the earliest. The uprisings also led the Defense Department to focus all of the Iraqi security forces to internal defense, which meant another change in mission. Finally, the violence showed the shortcomings of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps concept, which ended up being integrated into the Iraqi army at the end of April, as the Iraqi National Guard.
Iraqi National Guardsmen from Diyala taking back one of their dead comrades to Baghdad after a clash with insurgents, 2004
After sovereignty was transferred back to the Iraqis in June 2004, the training of the Iraqis was reformed once again. Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq under General Petraeus was created to train and equip the Iraqi forces. Multi-National Force-Iraq was put together under new commander General George Casey. It would deploy and support the Iraqis. From July to August, the U.S. did an assessment on how much progress was being made, and the goals of the United States. It found that the Iraqis were not ready to take on the militants, and that a much larger force was necessary than originally planned. It also suggested that all of them should focus upon counterinsurgency, rather than the police being for internal security, and the Iraqi army being for external defense. New Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte agreed with these findings and transferred $1.81 billion from other reconstruction projects to the $3.24 billion the CPA had set aside for the creation of the Iraqi police and military. The U.S. also created a system where 10-15 American soldiers who helped train the Iraqis would then deploy with them. This system was rapidly expanded, so that it would eventually cover all the Army and National Guard units. The worsening security situation forced the U.S. to revise all of its plans. Now both the Iraqi army and the new National Guard were going to be under American military control. All forces would also be focused upon countering militants, making even civilian agencies like the police auxiliaries of the U.S.

The Americans created a new metric for how the Iraqi forces would be graded as well. Under the CPA, the U.S. only counted how many Iraqis were on duty. They didn’t account for how many were trained, on leave, or dead. In the winter of 2004, a new more comprehensive system was created. Each Iraqi battalion was ranked on four levels based upon their abilities. Level 1 meant the unit could act independently, while Level 4 were those still in training. In October 2004, General Casey and General Abizaid told Congress that one-third of the 119 Iraqi Army battalions could carry out operations with some U.S. aid, and that they would soon take over the fight from the U.S. By July 2005 however, only 1 battalion was ranked Level 1. The U.S. was still pinning their hopes on the quick growth of the Iraqi military to allow them to withdraw from the country. All the emphasis was on pumping out as many soldiers as quickly as possible however. It would be years before more moved into the first level.

The U.S. also had to put together the Iraqi Defense Ministry. From late-2004 to 2005, the Iraqi Army grew from three to ten divisions. It also took over the Iraqi National Guard in January 2005. It had to rebuild its units after most fell apart during the spring of 2004. The Ministry also created the Iraqi Intervention Force, which patrolled Baghdad, and the Iraqi Special Operations Forces. This was outside the regular chain of command, and included the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Force that was trained by the U.S. Special Forces. At the same time, the Ministry was wracked with problems. It had trouble paying soldiers, recruiting, and replacing troops that died or quit. It also lacked trained staff, was fraught with corruption, and many promotions were made based upon nepotism and political connections. Finally, it didn’t have the logistics to supply its troops, and had to rely upon the Americans instead. While the forces under the Defense Ministry were quickly growing, it lacked the capacity to deal with the vast expansion. Some of the problems that arose such as logistics still plague the Ministry to this day.

The Americans continued to face difficulties as well. The U.S. was pumping in so much material into Iraq it couldn’t keep track of it all. From June 2004 to December 2006 for example, the U.S. couldn’t account for 190,000 weapons it handed out. Militants were also able to take advantage of the large number of men being recruited to infiltrate the force. In September 2004, a general in Diyala and a battalion commander in Kirkuk were arrested for helping insurgents. Finally, the U.S. maintained its two main goals. The first was to put out as many soldiers as possible. The second was to get the Iraqis to deal with their own security, so that the U.S. could exit the country. The emphasis remained quantity, whether the Americans and Iraqis could handle it or not. The situation was a little overwhelming for all involved.

The United States went from disbanding the Iraqi military to trying to re-build one as quickly as possible. Each time a plan was established, it would be undermined by events on the ground, and have to be revised. The Iraqis were also being thrown out into the field before they were ready, which led to a number of disasters when violence picked up. A real organization to deal with the training, equipment, and deployment of the Iraqi forces was not devised until the middle of 2004, a full year after the U.S. invaded the country. Unfortunately, Washington and Baghdad did not have the time to fully plan and develop this program. Part of that was due to the worsening security situation. The other was the driving pressure by the Americans to withdraw. It would take many more years for all these issues to be worked out, and for a competent Iraqi army to take the field.


Banerjee, Neela, “Raid prompts doubts about Iraqi security,” San Francisco Chronicle, 2/16/04

Cloud, David, “Worry Grows as Iraq’s Defense Ministry Falls Short of Expectations,” New York Times, 8/3/05

Coalition Provisional Authority, “Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 73, Transfer of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps To The Ministry Of Defense,” 4/22/04

Daragahi, Borzou, “Massacre feared a setup,” San Francisco Chronicle, 10/26/04

Filkins, Dexter, “General Says Militias Split Loyalties of Iraqi Security Forces,” New York Times, 12/3/05

Graham, Bradley, “A Report Card on Iraqi Troops,” Washington Post, 5/18/05

Priest, Dana, “Generals shift course, paint rosier picture of Iraq war,” San Francisco Chronicle, 10/3/05

Ratnesar, Romesh and Quinn-Judge, Paul, “Can Iraqis Do The Job?” Time, 5/3/04

Ricks, Thomas, Fiasco, New York: Penguin Press, 2006

Schmitt, Eric, “U.S. looks at adding more Americans to Iraqi units,” San Francisco Chronicle, 1/4/05

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09

United States Government Accountability Office, “DOD Cannot Ensure That U.S.-Funded Equipment Has Reached Iraqi Security Forces,” July 2007

1 comment:

DJ Elliott said...

My estimate is that 45 battalions, 8 brigades, and 1 Division of the IA had to be purged/rebuilt/retrained from 2005-2011.

The INP was worse.

They don't advertize it much but then, the US Army doesn't like to talk about the units that failed in its history either...

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