Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Breakdown Of The Iraqi Army’s Logistics

Given the dire security situation that Iraq faced from 2003-2008 it was no surprise that the United States gave little attention to the Iraqi Army’s logistics. It wasn’t until several years after the U.S. invasion that the Americans finally began planning and contracting to develop Iraq’s support network, so that it could maintain its forces and equipment. This went through huge problems including the complete un-interest amongst the Iraqi military leadership for this task. By the time the U.S. withdrew its forces in 2011, several supply depots had been established and a computerized management system was in place. The problem was that the Americans oversaw this network, and when they left the Iraqis weren’t capable of keeping it up and running. The result is that most of the logistics for the Iraqi army has broken down since then.

Iraqis are finding it harder to maintain their equipment like this Humvee because their logistic network is falling apart (U.S. Department of Defense)

In early 2013 General Robert Caslen, the head of the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq told the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) that Iraq’s logistic system had collapsed after the U.S. withdrawal. General Caslen told SIGIR that when the U.S. military pulled out of Iraq it took the structures with it that made sure the Iraqi military could supply and maintain itself. Around December 2012, General Caslen travelled to the spare parts warehouse at the Taji facility, which is the top maintenance base for the Iraqi army. There the general saw shelves packed with parts and the computers for the country’s automated inventory management system. The problem was that the parts were covered with dust, because they were never sent to any Iraqi units to repair anything. As a result, the Taji base had not ordered a single spare part during 2012. The computers Caslen found were not turned on, and had not worked for months. That was because the generators that ran the computers were out of commission. When the U.S. left the base had no contract or budget to provide fuel. That forced Iraqi soldiers to buy it themselves, which turned out to be of low quality, which eventually broke the generators. This was symbolic of the entire supply system for the Iraqi army. After the Americans departed, the Iraqis lacked the care, concern, know how, and interest to keep up the facility, and the entire network running. In turn, it fell apart leaving Iraqi units to fend for themselves. These problems were repeatedly brought up in audits and investigations in the lead-up to the withdrawal.

The Special Inspector General and the Inspector General of the Department of Defense from 2009-2010 issued several reports warning that the Iraqis were incapable of maintaining their supply system for the Iraqi forces. The problems actually started with the Americans. For the first several years after the invasion, the U.S. was only concerned with pumping out as many soldiers as possible. The Americans would do all the training, equipping, and supplying, so nothing was really done about the Iraqis doing that work themselves. Eventually, the U.S. decided to tackle the issue, and the Taji maintenance facility was to be at the forefront of that effort. The company that was contracted to develop the base was originally given a deal for $350 million, but that ballooned to $628.2 million by the time it was done. That was because the job was badly designed, and the orders for it were changed 161 times. The Iraqi Defense Ministry showed no interest in the facility, and the supply network overall, which meant the U.S. had to work on the base longer than expected adding more costs. When Taji was completed there were no Iraqi soldiers trained to use its equipment. The U.S. military stepped in, but the Iraqi army and Defense Ministry again showed little concern, and never sent enough soldiers to fully man the base or go for training. Not only that, but those that were detailed for the task were often pulled out. A July 2009 report by SIGIR for example, found that around 50% of students at Taji were absent at any given time. Of those permanently stationed at the base, 75% had finished their required courses, but they were ranked as marginally skilled. On top of that, only 33% of required troops were ever at the facility. Taji was only one example of how the entire system was flawed. Other issues included the fact that the Iraqi generals valued parts on the shelves over them being sent to units. That meant the leadership did not want bases like Taji to actually do their job, but simply store parts. Second, the system set up required Iraqi units to go to Taji to get parts rather than having them shipped to them. That would require huge trips, often ones that commanders would not allow. Requests for parts had to go all the way to the division’s general staff, and officers felt if they constantly asked for repairs they would lose standing, so most of them did not make the effort. There was also no guarantee that equipment sent to be fixed would be sent back to their units. Instead, Iraqi soldiers were forced to buy spare parts on the open market, sometimes of spotty quality or scavenge them from other vehicles to maintain their forces. Another factor was that Iraqi divisions were only given fuel for the number of vehicles they had on hand whether they worked or not. That created an incentive for officers to keep as many vehicles on hand as possible, even broke ones, so that they would get their fuel quota. At the top, because the Defense Ministry did not value logistics, and didn’t understand how it worked, it didn’t adequately budget, plan, or maintain it. The only thing that kept the system working was American oversight and advisers. Now that they are gone, the whole thing is collapsing. That has left each Iraqi division to take care of itself, while millions of dollars of parts sit idle in places like Taji.

Rebuilding the Iraqi security forces is considered the only success of the U.S. effort to reconstruct Iraq. A number of divisions were put together. After some huge setbacks, those units eventually took the lead in fighting militants, and performed admirably. Behind the scenes however, American and Iraqi neglect meant that the Iraqi army was only able to field a force, because of the U.S. military was there to ensure that adequate supplies and parts were made available. Once they withdrew the logistics system immediately began deteriorating. Taji Maintenance Depot is a perfect example with parts collecting dust that could be used to keep Humvees and other vehicles running. The Iraqi military leadership is making the situation worse, because they value how many resources are on hand rather than whether they are being used or operating properly. It has never understood the need for maintenance, and until it does the general staff will maintain incentives that will eventually lead to the breakdown of most of its heavy equipment.


Hoffman, Michael, “Logistics logjam is a challenge for Iraqi army,” Army Times, 3/13/11

Inspector General United States Department of Defense, “Assessment of U.S. Government Efforts to Develop the Logistics Sustainment Capability of the Iraq Security Forces,” Department of Defense, 11/17/10

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Developing A Depot Maintenance Capability At Taji Hampered By Numerous Problems,” 7/30/09
- “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/09
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/09
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” April 2013

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