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IRAQ: Security Forces

Author: Sharon Otterman
March 16, 2004
This publication is now archived.

What's the status of the Iraqi security forces?

Their numbers have grown dramatically since the end of major combat operations in May 2003, and they are increasingly serving as the front-line security forces in Iraqi cities. This shift is most evident in Baghdad, where U.S. military officials have begun to reduce the number of U.S. bases inside the city from a height of 60 in June 2003 to eight by May 2004, with only two in central Baghdad. As their ranks swell, Iraqi forces have become a prime target for insurgents, in part because they are not as well-protected as U.S. troops.

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How many Iraqi security troops are there?

Between 150,000 and 200,000, according to coalition officials. These forces are split into five security services, some of which have overlapping mandates:

  • The Iraqi Police Service (IPS), with some 70,000 personnel.
  • The Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC), a paramilitary force of some 31,000 who conduct counterterrorism and other security operations with coalition forces.
  • The New Iraqi Army (NIA), with some 3,000 personnel.
  • The Border Patrol, with some 8,300 personnel.
  • The Facilities Protection Service (FPS), with some 70,000 personnel who guard government buildings and installations.
Who commands Iraqi security forces?

The coalition forces, which are led by U.S. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. There is not yet an Iraqi Ministry of Defense, though U.S. officials say one will be established before June 30, when the coalition is scheduled to return political control to an Iraqi government. The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC)-- the 25-member, coalition-appointed body that currently serves as Iraq's interim government--does not have command authority over security. L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the occupation's civilian government in Baghdad, coordinates activities with the coalition's military forces but does not command them.

Will Iraqis take control of their security forces on July 1?

No, U.S. officials say. Iraqi security forces will become a partner in the military coalition and fall under its command, according to the interim constitution signed March 8 by the IGC. The constitution states that the coalition will retain "unified command" over the Iraqi forces "until the ratification of a permanent constitution and the election of a new government pursuant to that constitution." The election is scheduled to take place by December 31, 2005. U.S. officials have also said that U.N. Resolution 1511, which authorized a multinational force to "take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq," provides legal justification to keep coalition forces in Iraq for the near term.

Will U.S. forces leave by December 31, 2005?

That's a sensitive political issue that hasn't been directly addressed, but most experts say it's unlikely American troops would leave then. Sanchez, speaking to reporters March 11, said U.S. forces will remain in charge of security in Iraq for at least another year and stay until local security forces are robust enough to take over.

Are the Iraqis ready to provide security on their own?

Most experts and coalition officials say no. It is "quite clear that the Iraqi security forces, brave as they are, and beaten and attacked as they are, are not going to be ready by July 1," Bremer said February 14. Michele A. Flournoy, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says, "I think that we can't hand over control of security until there's a legitimate Iraqi government in place recognized by the international community and the Iraqi people themselves. I think people recognize that the political handover is going to have to precede the security handover because the security side just isn't ready yet."

What's the current state of security in Iraq?

While some experts say crime appears to have eased somewhat in the last few months--in part because of the increased presence of Iraqi security forces on the streets--the continuing insurgency and general lack of law and order mean that Iraq remains very dangerous. "After almost one year of intense efforts, a stable and secure environment remains elusive," concludes "Iraq: One Year After," an independent task force report sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. Coalition officials predict an upswing in terror attacks as June 30 draws closer. Iraqi security forces, experts say, are likely to remain a key target of these attacks.

What's the status of the local armed groups?

There are three large militias:

  • The Badr Brigades. This Iran-trained organization has some 10,000 men and is active in the Shiite-controlled south. They are the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shiite political party that has a seat on the IGC. SCIRI was part of a coalition of opposition groups that received U.S. financial support in the years before Saddam Hussein's ouster.
  • The Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP) pesh mergafighters. One of the two main groups of Iraqi Kurds, the KDP has about 25,000 relatively well-trained troops. With forces under the control of the other main Kurdish political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the KDP fighters helped coalition forces topple Saddam Hussein and now maintain security in Kurd-controlled northern Iraq.
  • The PUK's pesh merga fighters. The other main Kurdish militia is also thought to number some 25,000 men. Both the PUK and the KDP have seats on the governing council.

Numerous smaller militias have emerged. They are attached to particular tribes, religious leaders, and other local power holders. Among the most prominent is the Jaish al-Mahdiarmy, a militia loyal to a fiercely anti-U.S. Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. This militia is based in Baghdad; estimates of its membership range into the thousands.

What is the coalition's policy toward these groups?

Officially, private armed groups are banned by the coalition, but in practice, experts say, little effort has been made to disarm them. "For now, we've de facto accepted them," says retired army Major General William L. Nash, the director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations. One reason smaller private groups are difficult to control: Iraq is a heavily armed nation. Coalition guidelines allow every family to possess one personal firearm, and after the war the arsenals of the former Iraq Army were largely unsecured.

What's the status of training and equipment for the Iraqi police?

Police who lack prior experience are supposed to receive eight weeks of training, and those who served in the Saddam Hussein regime are scheduled to receive three weeks. But training has not kept pace with recruitment, according to the Department of Defense. The coalition is aiming to have some 80,000 fully trained police officers by January 2005. Of the 77,100 Iraqi police on duty as of February 20, 2004, only 3,600 had been fully trained. Some 26,000 were partially trained, and approximately 47,000 had received no training, according to "Draft Working Papers: Iraq Status," published February 20 by the Defense Department and reprinted in the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index. "There are training, organizational, and equipment shortfalls in the Iraqi Security Forces, there's no question about that," said Brigadier General Carter F. Ham, the commander of coalition forces in northern Iraq, on March 9. There are also shortages of equipment, including vehicles, firearms, and communications equipment, according to press reports.

How many Iraqi security forces have been killed by insurgents?

Since January 1, car bombs have killed dozens of Iraqis at police stations and military-recruiting facilities in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Erbil, and the southern Shiite city of Iskandariyah. In February, Iraqi security forces came under attack from insurgents an average of four times a day, according to Pentagon statistics. Iraqi officials have placed the total number of Iraqi security forces killed since May 1, 2003, at between 300 and 600. The number of American soldiers killed each month declined to 20 in February 2004 from 82 in November 2003, the highest monthly total since the end of major combat operations, according to Pentagon statistics. One reason for this shift: U.S. forces in Iraq are increasingly emphasizing "force protection"--keeping themselves safe--Flournoy says. A total of 264 U.S. troops were killed in action between May 1, 2003, and March 12, 2004.

What is the New Iraqi Army?

It is meant to take the place of Iraq's former army, which had some 400,000 men on the eve of the 2003 Iraq war. In a controversial decision, the CPA dissolved the former Iraqi Army on May 23, 2003; the NIA was established by executive order on August 8. Coalition planners envision a reconstituted force of some 20,000 volunteer soldiers, plus another 20,000 employees to perform logistical and administrative tasks. The NIA's mission will be purely defensive and its composition will reflect Iraq's religious and ethnic diversity. Coalition planners have said the force will not be used for internal security purposes; under Saddam Hussein, the army was used to repress the regime's suspected foes. However, planners are now reportedly considering using the force for some internal counterinsurgency operations.

What is the pace of army training and recruitment?

Slow. According to a December report in The Washington Post, some 480 of the 900 soldiers in the first army battalion resigned, largely over low pay. Since then, three battalions have been created; the force is expected to total 27 battalions by September 2004. In recent months, formal training has been shortened from eight to six weeks, and coalition officials are employing a "train the trainer approach," in which Iraqis are being taught to train their fellow soldiers, according to press reports.

How are soldiers recruited?

The coalition has relied on local tribal leaders, political leaders, and other elites to nominate volunteers who, once they join the force, enter brigades of mixed ethnicity. Former soldiers can apply to the new army, but high-ranking officers from Saddam Hussein's army may not join, according to coalition rules.

When will the Iraqi Army be able to protect the country from attack?

Not in the near future, many experts say. No Iraqi air force or navy is being created, and the new brigades are being trained only with assault rifles and light machine guns--though heavier weapons may be included in future training. By disbanding the old army, the CPA guaranteed that Iraqis will rely on the coalition for national security for years to come, some experts say. Besides the lack of a Defense Ministry--which was disbanded along with the army in May 2003--there are also few senior NIA officers, as recruits must start out as enlisted men and work their way up the ranks. "What I'm more concerned about than the numbers [of soldiers] is building a system that will train the Iraqis to run the army themselves," says Nash.

What is the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps?

Originally established by coalition executive order on September 3, 2003, as a temporary force to augment coalition troops, the ICDC has taken on a larger role and now participates in counterinsurgency and other military operations. It is variously described as a kind of national guard or constabulary force that provides internal security. "It is rapidly becoming the primary counterinsurgency force," says retired army Colonel Gary Anderson, who advised the Pentagon on the creation of the ICDC. "It's now under debate if it should be tied [after June 30] to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior or under the Iraqi Defense Department." The coalition's current plans for the ICDC call for 36 battalions by mid-2005, which would include some 30,000 to 40,000 men.

How are ICDC members trained and recruited?

They are chosen locally by the American commanders, often based on the recommendations of local Iraqi leaders. The result is that ICDC divisions tend to have clear ties to the areas they patrol. In some cases, they consist partially of existing local militia groups, some reports say. ICDC members are trained and commanded by the coalition division they are attached to, Anderson says. A standard training regime is a week of pre-boot camp, a week of boot camp, and two weeks of monitored on-the-job training. This relatively light training regime has raised concerns: "Current training efforts [for the ICDC] are not comprehensive and do not yet represent a serious, long-term plan to create a viable security entity," according to the Council-sponsored Iraq task force report. ICDC members are equipped with AK-47 assault rifles and in some cases carry heavier arms. About 70 percent of them have experience in the army or an Iraqi security force, Anderson says.

Are any ICDC units not locally based?

One special battalion--called the 36th battalion--consists of 80 or so fighters from the militia of each of the five main prewar Saddam Hussein opposition groups: the Iraqi National Congress, the Iraqi National Accord, the KDP, the PUK, and SCIRI. Trained and overseen by U.S. Special Operations troops, these fighters work together in mixed platoons and have, among their other achievements, foiled two plots involving attacks on the Baghdad headquarters of the CPA, Anderson says. The unit develops its own intelligence information.

How many border police are there?

Approximately 8,000, according to coalition officials. That number will soon increase, CPA officials say, in the wake of the March 2 terror attacks that killed some 180 Shiites during religious observances in Baghdad and Karbala. The CPA blamed that attack in part on non-Iraqis who entered from Iran, and CPA Administrator Bremer pledged some $60 million to accelerate enlargement of the border patrol toward the coalition's goal of 25,000 officers. Coalition officials are also vetting the force to remove members with high-level Baathist ties and links to smuggling. Border police have the same training program and pay scale as the regular police service, according to the CPA website. Later this year, the Interior Ministry is slated to open a new, $8-million Border Enforcement Academy in Sulaimaniya, according to the CPA.

What is the Facilities Protection Service?

A security corps whose duties include the protection of governmental buildings and facilities. The FPS is made up of a mix of first-time, newly trained, and seasoned guards; the experienced members have military or police training or experience. Each ministry is free to hire and train its own FPS guards, based on Ministry of Interior training standards.

What is the FPS training regime?

Newly hired FPS guards undergo a three-day training program, according to the CPA. Currently, FPS guards are trained by coalition forces or by Iraqis who themselves have received coalition training. Guards undergo training at the Baghdad Police Academy or at sites chosen by the ministry that hires them. They are equipped with 9 mm pistols and/or assault rifles.

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