Iraqi Force Development 2008
May 28, 2008
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are the key to enduring stability in Iraq, and their ability to secure the country is the single most important factor determining the pace of US withdrawals. The ISF remain very much a work in progress, and MNF-I reporting continues to sharply exaggerate the real-world readiness of Iraqi Army units, and the ability of the ISF to takeover security responsibility in given governorates. Congress and outside observers, however, need to recognize that very real progress is being made and that the exaggerations and flaws in MNF-I and US government reporting do not mean that the ISF cannot steadily reduce the need for US and allied forces over time. This report analyzes the progress and problems of the development of the Iraqi Security Forces.
The full report can be found here.
A smaller sized file, without the annex of tables, charts, and graphs, can be found here.
The development of the ISF faces a number of uncertainties:
- Battle of Basra: The poor performance of some elements of the ISF in Basra should come as no surprise. Even the most capable force needs adequate preparation and planning. The ISF is also divided into very different army and police elements, and is anything but a homogenous force. Every element has been built virtually from scratch, and each force has been constantly rushed into combat, has been rapidly expanding for years, and has had continually shifting leadership. Only the army has acquired adequate resources, embedded advisors, and partner units. Yet many of the IA’s units lack officers and NCOs, are ill-equipped and under-armored, and have units dominated by Shiite or Kurdish elements in a country rife with ethnosectarian conflict.
There are good reasons that both the Iraqi minister of Defense and General Dubik, the head of the MNF-I advisory effort, have said the Army is unlikely to be able to take over the counterinsurgency mission before 2012, and why even the basic goals for shaping the police force remain uncertain. Moreover, the Basra operation did not collapse altogether, and the JAM did eventually lay down its weapons.
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.
- Performance outside Basra and in Baghdad: The ISF performed better in smaller operations outside of Basra in southern Iraq. The ISF did not, however, initially perform well in Baghdad, particularly in Sadr City. 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.
- The Battle of Mosul: The city of Mosul, and parts of Ninewah province, are the last major stronghold of AQI. There are relatively few US forces located in Mosul, and operations to destroy this stronghold are being led largely by the ISF. There are also almost no Sons of Iraq groups in Mosul, so the IA and IP must face AQI largely by themselves. Progress in launching the battle was slow although AQI remained on the defensive.
The Army began a large operation in Mosul in early May, but its anti-Al Qa’ida sweeps came after weeks of warning. This warning gave insurgent cadres ample opportunity to disperse or adopt clash and run tactics. Despite this, the joint ISF/Coalition offensive in Mosul met relatively little resistance from AQI fighters, and by mid May the ISF had not only captured a significant number of militants, but had achieved an 85% drop in daily attacks. Whether or not the ISF is able to hold on to the gains it has made, and prevent the return and regrouping of AQI, remains to be seen.
- Localization of Security in the forces of Ministry of Defense (MoD) the Ministry of Interior (MoI): The regular Iraqi armed forces seem to be gradually becoming a more national force, with fewer highly Kurdish and Shi’ite elements, and fewer problems with Sunni officers. This progress, however, is slow and uncertain.
No such progress is taking place in the regular police. MOI forces are heavily influenced by local actors, large elements are locally recruited and are not “trained and equipped” at the national level. This percentage seems to be growing. The Iraqi Police (IP) and other MoI security forces will be locally and regionally tied, with some national elements. Attempts to free IP units from local influence have largely failed, and MNSTC-I seems to have accepted de-facto local control of MOI forces for the time being.
- Iraqi Police Force: Progress in developing the IP is extremely uncertain. There has been little useful official reporting on the progress of the Iraqi Police Force. It is unclear what MNF-I’s current goals are for developing various elements of the police. It is also unclear how the new provincial powers law, and coming provincial elections, will affect the police force, how local and central elements will influence the force, and even how large the force will be in its end state. Official reporting on the manning, equipping, and training of the IP remains highly inaccurate.
- Slow Progress in the Local Rule of Law: There has been some progress at the highest levels in establishing courts and some rule of law. Yet the central government lacks an effective presence in many areas, and the criminal justice and courts system is unable to support the police. The IP needs effective governance and a functioning court system to back it up. The establishment of reliable and impartial courts has been extremely slow, and this has seriously harmed the development of effective MOI forces at the local level. There is little official reporting on Iraq’s jails, the availability of defendants to find counsel, the status of due process, and the role of religious and tribal courts. Furthermore, it is entirely unclear how all of these elements will interact, both at the central and local level.
- National Police: Until 2007, the National Police (NP) acted largely as a Shi’ite force within the MOI, and were responsible for much sectarian violence against Sunnis. Far from being a central-government run nationwide police force, they more often resembled a government funded tool of sectarian intimidation. MNF-I instituted a massive reform program in the NP in 2007. 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.
- Sons of Iraq: This large mostly Sunni and tribal force is supposed to be temporary, and the ultimate destination of the over 90,000 men in these units is a major uncertainty. While MNSTC-I believes that 20-25% of the Sons of Iraq will be absorbed into the ISF , 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.
- Political and militia influence in the ISF: The “competition among ethnic and sectarian communities” that Gen. Petraeus believes is at the heart of conflict in Iraq includes the struggle for control of the MOD and MOI. Several major political parties, and their respective militias, have gained partial control over many GOI ministries. The MOI and MOD are no exception.
JAM, ISCI/Badr, Daawa, Kurdish groups, Fadilah, Sunni Awakening groups, and a host of smaller groups all vie for control of the various parts of the ISF. In many areas, such as Basra and much of southern Iraq, the Coalition had effectively ceded control of security and local government to these parties. JAM influence over the IP and elements of the IA were exposed in the desertions of ISF personnel during the fighting in Basra in March, 2008.
The MOI is heavily influenced by Shiite parties. At the center, control of the Ministry itself is largely balanced between ISCI and Daawa. Kurdish parties also exert some influence. The JAM exerts varying but significant levels of control at the local level, particularly in the south and in the NP.
The MOD is less influenced by these parties than the MOI, but still faces serious issues. The heavy Coalition presence at all levels of the MOD has helped to contain sectarianism somewhat, as has the presence of so many Sunni officers. Sadly, much of the truly impressive progress the ISF has made in the last 5 years will be rendered moot if its personnel are not loyal to the GOI.
- Intelligence: Iraq’s intelligence apparatus remains divided between a CIA-supported ‘official’ agency (the Iraqi National Intelligence Service or INIS) and a Shi’ite-run agency (under the auspices of the minister of state for national security, Shirwan al-Waely). The levels of competition or cooperation between these agencies remain unclear.
- Provincial Powers Law: The balance of power between the central and Provincial governments remains undecided. How power shifts between the provinces and Baghdad will affect the ISF is also unclear. These issues are further compounded by unrealistic reporting on the transfer of security responsibilities by province, when the Iraqi forces are clearly unready to take over the mission.
- Equipment and Logistics: The ISF has made significant progress in the areas of logistics and equipping forces in the field. However, many units, especially in the IP, remain critically short of equipment. The IA still lacks armor. While its independence is increasing, the ISF remains dependant on Coalition support, particularly during combat operations.
- Metrics: 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. This situation has been compounded by the need to cope with the turbulence caused by a series of new plans that call for expanding Iraqi forces without proper regard for the trade-offs between force quantity, force quality, financial and manpower resources, and time. Virtually every official timeline for security transition created since 2003 has been grossly overoptimistic. These problems have been made worse by US government progress reporting that lumps together Iraqi units actually capable of independent action with units requiring very different levels of support, and reporting that grossly understates real-world dependence on US enablers and partner units. 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.