Small Wars Journal

After Mosul: The Collapse of the Iraqi Military and What it Says About Iraq

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 10:28am

After Mosul: The Collapse of the Iraqi Military and What it Says About Iraq

Jeff Collins

Since the fall of Iraq’s third largest city, Mosul, last month much media attention has been on what actions the Obama administration may or may not take in countering the ISIS advance to Baghdad and what it could mean for American-Iranian relations. However, little consideration has been given to why the Iraqi military’s astounding collapse demonstrates just how divided that country’s society is and how bleak the prospects are for long-lasting stability.

At first glance, the inability and unwillingness of some 20 battalions of Iraqi security forces, totalling upwards to 30,000 personnel, to withstand 1,500 militants in pick-up trucks, in just three days, is remarkable. But dig deeper and you will find that the roots of this battlefield rout stretch all the way back to 2003 when Jerry Bremer, then head of the American appointed Coalition Provisional Authority, abolished the Saddam Hussein-era military and banned all Baath Party members from participating in the new Iraqi government.

These orders saw the release of thousands of disgruntled and experienced military officers, most of whom were members of the Sunni minority. These people formed the nucleus of the original insurgency in 2003 and are at the heart of the ISIS organization today. Compounding those effects has been the inept governance of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who, since 2010, has increasingly become the Shia version of Saddam Hussein.

His actions towards alienating the Sunni minority, and thereby weakening the institutional cohesion of the military, have been manifold. Maliki has consolidated the ministries of defence and the interior under his authority and appointed his son as head of the prime ministerial bodyguard. He has abolished merit promotions in favour of sectarian loyalists, leaving an Iraqi military that is both devoid of independent-thinking and corrupt, as officers pad payrolls, and sell equipment and food. Meanwhile, the elite units that guard Baghdad, and thus Maliki, remain composed of his co-religionists while those sent to fight ISIS are multi-ethnic, poorly paid, and poorly led.

With the powers of the state’s security forces firmly concentrated in his office, Maliki has used them to target Sunni militias, while giving their Shia equivalents a free pass. Thus, the Iraqi army morphed into a Shiite army as it has turned against peaceful Sunni protests and Sunni leaders, including even the Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashimi (now in hiding in the Kurdish north). This is the Iraqi military that the United States now faces in supporting. 

Of course, it never had to be this way. Following the successes of the American ‘surge’ in 2007 and the crackdown, by Maliki, of Shiite militias in Basra in 2008 many in the Sunni community had bought into the new political experiment in Baghdad. But the joint failure of the Obama administration in not obtaining a status of forces agreement that would have kept American advisors in place and later completely absolving itself from anything Iraqi after the 2011 withdrawal has come back in spades to haunt them. The rot, it is clear, is deep and any measures taken by the United States to not only defeat ISIS but prevent another repeat are going to need to be long-term.



Mon, 07/21/2014 - 5:04pm

Mr Pyruz's comment is simply another misleading transference of responsibility. Article 27 of the SOFA signed by President Bush's Ambassador Crocker also contained the following language which clearly allows for the use of US force "In the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq that would violate its sovereignty, political independence, or territorial integrity, waters, airspace, its democratic system or its elected institutions, and upon request by the Government of lraq." Furthermore, the current Administration had three years to negotiate a revised SOFA. President Obama did not choose that course however. Instead, he said "under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011". Mr Collins is correct in both his statement about the current administrations responsibility and in his assignment of responsibility jointly to the feckless Maliki and to our current administration.

Mark Pyruz

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 3:26pm

With respect, this piece should have been fact checked before posting.

It was the Bush administration that signed the following:

"The U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (official name: Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq On the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq) was a status of forces agreement (SOFA) between Iraq and the United States, signed by President George W. Bush in 2008. It established that U.S. combat forces would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and all U.S. forces will be completely out of Iraq by December 31, 2011."

Since Iraq was not going to allow a reintroduction of American troops after 2011, or a SOFA stipulating U.S. troops not be tried through the Iraqi legal system, among other things, persons such as Mr. Collins are in effect advocating the Obama administration should have re-invaded Iraq by force of arms. This is absurd for two reasons: one, it would have been highly illegal (international law) and two, the American people would have been dead set against it, as they are to this day.