Archive for the ‘ISF’ Category

In a sobering account of the Iraqi Army’s combat readiness, The New York Times’ Campbell Robertson reports from Khan Bani Saad:

While Americans and Iraqi civilians alike are increasingly eager to see combat operations turned over to the Iraqi Army, interviews with more than a dozen Iraqi soldiers and officers in Diyala Province, at the outset of a large-scale operation against insurgents led by Iraqis but backed by Americans, reveal a military confident of its progress but unsure of its readiness.

The army has made huge leaps forward, most of the soldiers agreed, and can hold its own in battles with the insurgency with little or no American support. But almost all said the time when the Iraqi Army can stand alone as a national defense force is still years away.

‘You can’t go from a lieutenant all the way to a general at once,’ said one Iraqi officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. ‘The army needs more time.’

In its rush to (re)announce mission accomplished, the Bush administration, with considerable help from MNF-I, has been pushing a narrative about the ISF finally “standing up”. Here’s what LTC Muhammad Najim Khairi of the Third Battalion of the IA’s 19th Brigade thinks:

“We are too many years behind other countries. We need the coalition forces until 2015.”

And what happens if the Americans leave earlier?

“Believe me”, says COL Ali Mahmoud, commander of the 19th Brigade’s Third Battalion. “There will be a big disaster.”

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In a sign that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government seeks to build a new national security state over the ruins of the previous one, Pentagon last Friday announced military sales to Iraq worth some $9 billion. AFP has the details:

The biggest proposed sale was for 392 Light Armored Vehicles, radios and anti-tank weapons at an estimated cost of three billion dollars, the Defense Security and Cooperation Agency said.

Congress also was notified of a possible sale of 140 upgraded M1A1 Abrams tanks as well as armored Humvees, tracked logistics vehicles, armored ambulances, vehicles to carry shelters and command posts, and trucks to transport heavy equipment.

It was valued at 2.16 billion dollars.

A separate 2.4 billion dollar helicopter deal would provide the Iraqi government with 24 Bell Armed 407 helicopters or 24 Boeing AH-6 helicopters, along with engines, missiles, mortars, machineguns, and rocket launchers.

Good news is, they’re actually paying for this stuff.

The bad?

Call me a party pooper, but I think the chances of all this hardware not being used against ordinary Iraqis at some point are pretty slim.

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In a sure sign that security has greatly improved in Diyala, the Iraqi Army has ventured out of its barracks to conduct one of its live combat simulations in the province. Touted as a “major offensive” by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the U.S. military and the skeleton crew of journalists still in Iraq, the operation will most likely involve no shooting, as the government announced its intentions weeks ago, giving Sunni insurgents ample time to scurry off.

At least the people of Mosul can let out a collective sigh of relief, as their city now appears to have lost its title of “the last urban stronghold of al-Qaeda”.

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Mosul: SNAFU

Juan Cole has an update:

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that the security situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse in Mosul. Yesterday a bombing killed 2 and wounded 90 persons, and a municipal leader was assassinated; in addition, a roadside bombing killed 3 US troops and their interpreter. An informed source told the Baghdad daily that the security campaign in the northern city of 1.7 mn. led by PM Nuri al-Maliki was deeply flawed. He said that there had been no coordination between the government forces sent into Mosul with the police in their 80 local HQs, nor with the 48 offices of parties that maintain powerful militias.

Peshmerga troops of the Kurdistan Alliance in Mosul began being replaced on Wednesday by units of the Iraqi Army after severe pressure was exerted by the people of the city, tribal elders, and notables. (Mosul is about 80 percent Arab, but there is a Kurdish minority; residents fear that Kurdistan is trying to annex the city). An Iraqi Army source said that in the Waterfall District in the east of the city, a Peshmerga unit had already been switched out with an Iraqi Army one.

I hate to say I told you so:

“A lion’s peep in Mosul” — May 12
“O.K. Corral, Maliki style” — May 13
“Come out with your hands in the air” — May 16
“Informed Comment on Mosul” — May 19
“Mosul: Lights on, nobody home” — May 21
“Déjà vu Mosul” — May 25
“Iraq: Yazidis under attack” — May 27
“Insurgency in Mosul: Now you see us, now you don’t” — May 30
“Mosul: Finally, a reporter on the ground” — June 1
“Mosul: Life Is Like It Used to Be” — June 10

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Déjà vu.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has extended the deadline for Shia fighters in Amara to surrender themselves. This is becoming something of a habit. Amnesty was also offered to militants in Mosul after a much-advertised government crackdown failed to produce results. Today, the terrorists are back with a vengeance.

Here’s a tight and precise update from NYT’s Oppel:

Iraqi troops have fanned out in force in Mosul to try to quell the insurgency there led by Baathist fighters and Sunni extremist guerrillas. Violence has dropped in the city in recent months, but according to officials knowledgeable about the fighting, many of Mosul’s most fearsome guerrillas have been pursued by U.S. special operations forces operating in secret rather than Iraqi troops. It remains to be seen whether the Iraqi forces can keep the Mosul insurgency in check, or whether the guerrillas will reassert their presence, as they have in the past.

And, going against the “al-Qaeda” meme:

The [U.S. military] statement said the blast had been caused by a car bomb and carried out by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the largely homegrown Sunni insurgent group. The statement offered no explanation of why the military believed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had been responsible for the attack, and not any of the other Sunni extremist and pro-Saddam groups that still operate in the city.

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The Marines will transfer control of Anbar to the Iraqi Army on Saturday. I’m sure this will greatly bolster the self-confidence of the local Sunnis and give them a new sense of autonomy and direction. Still, the Reuters story leaves the most important questions unanswered. Among them:

  • Which Iraqi units will take over from Kelly’s troops?
  • Are they ready and combat-tested?
  • What is their sectarian composition?
  • How will their performance be monitored?

In other words, contrary to what MNF-I would like us believe, transfer of control in itself doesn’t signal “a remarkable turnaround”, or show that Iraqi forces are “increasingly ready to defend Iraq against threats such as those posed by al Qaeda”. Rather, it shows that Petraeus is anxious to throw the ball back to the Iraqis before his stint ends, no matter what the consequences.

For a sobering reminder of where things really stand with the ISF, I recommend Cordesman and Mausner’s excellent report. Among other things, it details major problems in ISF progress reporting (read: unrealistically upbeat assessments by the U.S.), combat performance, and force expansion.

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Stephen Biddle of CFR has many words of praise about the improved situation in Iraq. Alas, there’s this one tiny little “issue”:

The Iraqi Security Forces are now so large that there’s some danger of Praetorianism—a coup d’état—growing in Iraq. Interestingly, when you look back to the pre-Petraeus era [before Gen. David Petraeus took command of coalition forces in Iraq in early 2007], one of the reasons that the ISF didn’t grow so fast was because there were fears that if they got too big, they would either pose a threat to Iraq’s neighbors or a threat to Iraq’s civilian government. There was a worry that there’d be a coup d’état if the Iraqi security forces got too big.

The interviewer: “You think this is a possibility?”

Well, I think it’s a growing possibility. I think one of the things our presence does is moderate and mitigate that dramatically. It’s much harder to imagine a Praetorian solution, a coup d’état, a military government as long as we are there. If we were to leave, you could easily imagine a situation in which the military as the most effective institution in society decides to take over. The parliament is the least respected institution in Iraqi society.

And the ministries in the executive branch are typically doing a very poor job of delivering essential services to the public. It’s not uncommon in the developing world to get situations in which, in the presence of a dysfunctional and unpopular civilian government, soldiers stand up and seize the reins.

I know those of you familiar with Thomas Carothers are probably nodding in agreement, but still — the irony is mindboggling. To have another military strongman run Iraq after five years of bloodshed is such a perfectly messed-up narrative it’s probably going to happen.

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Here’s a piece of bad news masquerading as good news:

Iraqi security forces met little resistance Thursday on Day 1 of the government’s crackdown in the southern city of Amarah as they sought to disarm gunmen loyal to the militant Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

Iraqi defense officials said there were no casualties or gun battles as military and national police units easily spread through northern Amarah, a mostly Shiite oil and agricultural city that borders Iran and for decades has served as a smuggling hub.

The thing is, the fact that Maliki’s army has faced no serious opposition in its operations in Mosul and Amara doesn’t mean that no opposition exists. It means Sunni insurgents, foreign terrorists and Sadr’s fighters have just decided to wait for another day. And it means we have yet to see how the Iraqi Army will perform in real combat, not these simulated exercises.

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The role of U.S. troops in the crackdown in Amara will be “consultative”, according to General Abdul-Kareem Khalaf of MoI.

Sure — I bet the Apaches are already patrolling the skies of Maysan, readying their Hellfires for “consultation”…

Okay, sorry. I mean no disrespect, it’s just that all the glowing reports of ISF success have left me a little cynical. From what I saw in Iraq a couple of months ago, it’s obvious that if you remove the Americans from the equation, the Iraqis won’t stand a chance. Sooner or later they will; but until then I’d rather not have any more of the “Iraq is fixing itself” narrative, thank you very much.

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It seems I’m no longer alone with my rants against the “Iraqis are taking the lead” meme now in vogue in the Western media. Anthony Cordesman and Adam Mausner of CSIS have just issued a devastating analysis on Iraqi force development, basically calling the glowing reports on the Iraqi Army’s performance what they are — bullshit.

MNF-I and the GOI continue to provide misleading and optimistic public reporting and metrics on ISF performance. The ISF is making progress in many areas, but MNF-I and GOI reporting and metrics sharply understate the real-world timelines and efforts needed to deal with problems and delays in shaping credible force plans, getting proper training facilities and throughput, embedding competent advisors, providing effective equipment, getting competent Iraqi leaders and force retention, and dealing with ethnic and sectarian issues. Official reporting on the MOI and the IP in particular is extremely misleading.

These problems have created false expectations and demands within the US Congress, as well as unrealistic budgets and plans that require progress that cannot be achieved for several years to come.


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.

On Basra:

The bad news was the ISF showed only limited capability to plan and execute a major operation on its own, suffered from serious desertions and failures, had to turn to the US and UK for emergency support, and needed an Iranian-brokered compromise to deal with Sadr. The good news is that the ISF eventually was able to field a large number of troops, did not face sustained resistance from elements of the JAM or other forces, and has been able to occupy and control the city since the cease fire.

In Sadr City, too, the only good news had nothing to do with the IA’s offensive capability:

Only US forces were ready to deal with the threat posed by the Mahdi Army (JAM). The government again had to turn to the Coalition for military support and to Iran for help in brokering a ceasefire deal with Sadr. Once again, however, the ISF was able to successfully occupy Sadr City once a ceasefire was agreed to.

On the National Police:

This ongoing program has clearly had some positive outcomes, and has reduced the previous Shi‘ite dominance of the force and resulted in the firing of a huge number of the NP‘s senior commanders. Many elements still, however, present problems, and it remains to be seen whether the reform program can make the NP a truly non-sectarian force.

On the Sons of Iraq:

While MNSTC-I believes that 20-25% of the Sons of Iraq will be absorbed into the ISFii, progress has been slow in this area. What will become of the other 75-80% of these heavily armed men, accustomed to their relatively high salaries, is also a major concern. Unless jobs and economic opportunities are found for the entire force, and Sunnis and mixed tribal groups come to trust in government help and funding, the gains this force has made will be lost and many elements could become hostile to the central government.

And so on.

I think their analysis on Mosul is too optimistic, and I hate the way they use the term “al-Qaeda”, but all in all, this is a fantastic report.

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