Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Premier Abadi’s Attempt To Reform Iraq’s Security Forces

Prime Minister Haider Abadi had the unfortunate experience of becoming Iraq’s leader after the fall of Mosul. When he stepped into office the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) had collapsed in the north in the face of the insurgency. This was due to deep institutional problems and the politicization of the force by his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki. Abadi has attempted to reform the ISF by getting rid of Maliki loyalists and those deemed unqualified. This is a necessary step in a very long process to create a professional military and police that can defend the country.

Given the dire security situation in the country cleaning up the ISF was going to be Premier Abadi’s top priority. He got right to business by retiring the Ground Forces Commander General Ali Ghidan and the deputy chief of staff of operations General Abboud Qanbar al-Maliki on September 23, 2014 shortly after coming into office. At the same time, Abadi got rid of the Office of Commander in Chief, which Nouri al-Maliki had used as an alternative chain of command to directly give orders to officers and units. On September 25, he replaced the commander in Salahaddin General Ali Furaiji with General Abdul Wahab. Four days later, Abadi took a more sweeping step when he dismissed 132 officers including three senior ones and 24 brigade commanders. The next month he fired another 150 high-ranking officers, most of which were in Ninewa, Salahaddin and Kirkuk when insurgents overran those provinces in June. Then on November 12 the premier cleaned out another 36 top officers in what he said was to increase professionalism and get rid of corruption. Some of those dismissed and retired included the Army Chief of Staff General Babaker Zebari, four of his deputies, the secretary general of the Defense Ministry General Ibrahim al-Lami, chief of the Baghdad Operations Command General Abed al-Amir Shammari, the head of the Anbar Operations Command General Rasheed Flayh, commander of the Samarra Operations Command General Sabah Fatlawi, and the director of Military Intelligence at the Defense Ministry General Hatem Magsusi. Then on November 17 the two top officers at the Babil Operations Command were reassigned to the Defense Ministry. Finally, on November 23 the prime minister replaced the deputy Interior Minister Adnan Asadi who ran the ministry for Maliki, and a new head of intelligence was appointed as well. These were all necessary moves to reform the ISF. Many of these men like General Ghidan and Adnan Asadi were Maliki loyalists who owed their positions to the former premier. Generals Ghidan and al-Maliki were also blamed for the fall of Mosul. Others like General Flayh were known for stealing supplies from his men, while the majority of Anbar the province under his command fell to insurgents. If Abadi is intent upon cleaning up the police and army he had to start at the top.

All these officers were symptomatic of the deeper problems facing the Iraqi Security Forces. First, corruption is endemic. Many soldiers and police do not want to serve and pay their officers a portion of their salaries so they don’t have to show up to work. In turn, their commanders register fake names to collect more money. Another issue is that officers are in charge of requisitioning supplies for their units, but often take the funds for themselves. Some of these men bought their positions as well from their higher ups. This creates a culture of graft and abuse within the police and armed forces, and leads to a leadership gap as well as many commanders are in it for the money rather than to serve their country. Additionally, Maliki politicized the ISF. Like many leaders in developing countries he was afraid of a coup, so he placed his own men in leadership positions, many of which had no right to be there. He also used the Office of Commander and Chief and the operations commands to get around the chain of command, so that he could directly control the forces. Abadi’s moves have attempted to address some of these problems, but ultimately he has to repair the institutions. If not then new officers will simply fall into the same pattern as their predecessors. It will take years to really solve these problems, and require more firings, court martials, retraining and other steps to create a professional, competent and accountable security forces in a country where those attributes are sorely lacking in the government overall.


Agence France Presse, “Iraq PM sacks 36 army officers in anti-corruption drive,” 11/12/14

AIN, “Gen. Ghanimi nominated Deputy Chief of Staff,” 11/12/14
- “INA MP: INA requests to dismiss Asadi, unqualified security officials,” 11/25/14

Ali, Ahmed, “Iraq’s Prime Minister Reshuffles the Security Commanders,” Institute for the Study of War, 11/13/14

Buratha News, “Abadi sacks 132 officers, including three senior officers and 24 brigade commanders!” 9/28/14

Al Forat, “Asadi appointed as advisor for security affairs,” 11/23/14
- “Let. Gen. Qasim Mohamadi appointed as Commander of Anbar OC,” 11/12/14

Independent Press Agency, “Abadi decides to refer Abboud Qanbar and Ali Ghaidan to retirement,” 9/23/14

Kirkpatrick, David, “Graft Hobbles Iraq’s Military in Fighting ISIS,” New York Times, 11/23/14

Al Masalah, “Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces ordered the transfer of Furaiji and the appointment of Abdul Wahab commander instead of him,” 9/25/14

Naji, Jamal, “Abadi shakes up military leadership after Anbar massacre,” Iraq Oil Report, 9/24/14

National Iraqi News Agency, “/150/ High-rank officers dismissed,” 10/12/14

Al Rafidayn, “Abadi orders retirement of 36 military commanders..publishes names in detail,” 11/12/14

Al Rayy, “Source: Aqeel al-Khazali to Ministry of Interior and Mohammed Samir Haddad Head of Intelligence,” 11/25/14

Shafaq News, “Abadi dismiss 26 senior military leaders,” 11/12/14

Shafiq, Mohammed, “The appointment of Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir al-Zaidi, the new chief of operations of Babylon,” Alsumaria, 11/17/14


PeteM said...

Interesting account of this purge of the ISF, Joel. I think Abadi has no military background so who handed him the list of those to be removed, was it Soleimani? Who, besides the few you list, are going to fill these vacant positions, will it be personnel from the Badr Brigades?

I wonder if there were incentives offered to the high ranking officers because they could become powerful enemies if not treated carefully.

Corruption of this magnitde is difficult to control so Iran taking a firm hand in the ISF may be they only way to root it out.

Joel Wing said...


Many of the replacements for the dismissed officers were division commanders. Some but not all of them have been listed in the press.

As for Iran determining who should take over the ISF that would only cause more problems that Abadi probably wants to avoid. Tehran would only put in their own loyalists and it's important to remember that one of it's main goals is make sure that Iraq never develops as a strong country again.