FAS | Nuke | Guide | Iraq | Agency |||| Index | Search |


During the late 1970s and the mid-1980s, the Iraqi armed forces underwent many changes in size, structure, arms supplies, hierarchy, deployment, and political character. Between 1980 and the summer of 1990 Saddam boosted the number of troops in the Iraqi military from 180,000 to 900,000, creating the fourth-largest army in the world. With mobilization, Iraq could raise this to 2 million men under arms--fully 75% of all Iraqi men between ages 18 and 34. The number of tanks in the Iraqi military rose from 2,700 to 5,700 and artillery pieces went from 2,300 to 3,700.

Headquartered in Baghdad, the army--of an estimated 1.7 million or more Iraqis, including reserves and paramilitary--in 1987 had seven corps, five armored divisions (each with one armored brigade and one mechanized brigade), and three mechanized divisions (each with one armored brigade and two or more mechanized brigades). An expanded Presidential Guard Force was composed of three armored brigades, one infantry brigade, and one commando brigade. There were also thirty infantry divisions, composed of the People's Army (Al Jaysh ash Shaabi--also cited as the Popular Army or People's Militia) brigades and the reserve brigades, as well as six Special Forces brigades.

Conditions of service in the Iraqi army historically have been poor. In addition to receiving low and irregular pay, during much of the country's modern history Iraqi soldiers were involved in a costly and unpopular war with Kurdish rebels. Having to fight the Kurds caused morale problems and desertions, particularly among the army's Kurdish recruits, and on at least two occasions between 1975 and 1979 the government offered amnesties to all soldiers and security personnel who had deserted during Kurdish conflicts.

This growth in the manpower and equipment inventories of the Iraqi armed forces was facilitated by Iraq's capacity to pay for a large standing army and was occasioned by Iraq's need to fight a war with Iran, a determined and much larger neighbor. Whereas in 1978 active-duty military personnel numbered less than 200,000, and the military was equipped with some of the most sophisticated weaponry of the Soviet military arsenal, by 1987 the quality of offensive weapons had improved dramatically, and the number of men under arms had increased almost fourfold.

Army equipment inventories increased significantly during the mid-1980s. Whereas in 1977 the army possessed approximately 2,400 tanks, including several hundred T-62 models, in 1987 Iraq deployed about 4,500 tanks, including advanced versions of the T72 . Other army equipment included about 4,000 armored vehicles, more than 3,000 towed and self-propelled artillery pieces, a number of FROG-7 and Scud-B surface-to-surface missiles with a range of up to 300 kilometers, and an array of approximately 4,000 (some self-propelled) antiaircraft guns. The vast majority of the army's equipment inventory was of Soviet manufacture, although French and Brazilian equipment in particular continued to be acquired in Iraq's ongoing attempt to diversify its sources of armaments.

This mammoth arsenal gave Iraq a clear-cut advantage over Iran in 1987. Iraq had an advantage of more than four to one in tanks (4,500 to 1,000); four to one in armored vehicles (4,000 to 1,000); and two to one in artillery and antiaircraft pieces (7,330 to 3,000). Despite this quantitative and qualitative superiority, the Iraqi army by the end of 1987 had not risked its strength in a final and decisive battle to win the war. Iraq's military failures were primarily the result of poor leadership and an overly rigid command structure. Defective leadership was evident in the lack of clear orders and in the poor responses by the army in the occupation of Susangerd. In October 1980, armored units twice advanced and withdrew from the city, and later in the same operation, the army abandoned strategic positions near Dezful. Rigid control of junior officers and of noncommissioned officers (NCOs) frustrated their initiative and may have been the reason for the high casualty figures in the infantry, where initiative and spontaneity in decision making can be of paramount importance. The command structure reportedly was even more inflexible and slow in the People's Army detachments, where political commanders routinely made military decisions.

After the military defeats of 1982, the entire chain of command suffered low morale. On several occasions, signs of mutiny in opposition to the war emerged. According to unverified Iraqi dissident reports, the number of deserters reached 100,000, and in central and in southern Iraq. Many soldiers refused to fight in Kurdistan, and many more joined the armed Kurdish resistance movement.

As a result of the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq was obliged to extend its search for arms in 1981. By the time the war entered its eighth year in September 1987, Iraq had become the world's biggest single arms market. In addition to its purchases from the Soviet Union and France, Iraq sought to buy armaments from China, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Italy, Brazil, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Egypt, among others. The United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency estimated in 1987 that Iraq had imported about US$24 billion worth of military equipment during the period from 1981 to 1985.

In August 1990 the Iraqi Army seized and occupied Kuwait. Iraqi ground forces in the KTO included elements of up to 43 divisions, 25 of which are assessed as committed, 10 the operational reserve, and eight the strategic reserve. Some independent brigades were operating under corps control. The Iraqi defensive strategy, however, was not prepared for the Coalition's offensive strategy. The Iraqi assumption that the tactics used in the Iran-Iraq War would be applicable against the Coalition proved faulty, as did their assumption that the attack would be terrain-oriented in support of the Coalition's political goal of liberating Kuwait. Further, once the air war began, Iraqi tactical intelligence became virtually blind. Most importantly, Iraqi defensive planning was rendered ineffective due to the speed, maneuver, firepower, and technological advantages of the Coalition offensive, which surprised and overwhelmed the Iraqis, although some Iraqi regular and heavy units put up a fight. At the end of more than a mouth of bombardment, Iraqi forces remained in Kuwait; many particularly in the front line units, were in poor condition, with their ability to coordinate an effective defense along the border severely reduced.

In theory, prior to Operation Desert Storm armor divisions consisted of 12,100 men and 245 tanks and infantry divisions had 14,100 men and 78 tanks. In practice the Iraqi army's divisions were never equal to their tables of organisation and equipment. The gap between theoretical and actual strength may have contributed to over-estimates of the strength of Iraqi forces deployed during the 1990-91 Gulf War. In any event, the War itself resulted in the destruction of roughly half the tanks and other equipment of the Army.

Since the War, the army reduced the numbers of units and personnel, and focused on reconstituting armor and mechanised units with remaining equipment. The number of regular army divisions was cut from seven armored/mechanised and 20 infantry divisions to two or three armor divisions, three mechanised divisions and 15 to 17 infantry divisions. Currently, armor divisions have two armor and one mechanised brigade; mechanised divisions have one armor and two mechanised brigades; and the infantry divisions consist of three infantry brigades and a tank battalion. Armor brigades consist of three armor battalions and one mechanised battalion, while mechanised brigades consist of have three mechanised battalions and a tank battalion. Divisions generally have four supporting artillery battalions.

Sources and Resources

FAS | Nuke | Guide | Iraq | Agency |||| Index | Search |


Maintained by Webmaster
Updated Tuesday, November 03, 1998 6:48:07 AM