The Iraqi Army, in spite of impressive numbers, allies, and equipment, has failed time and time again to stand up successfully against ISIS.
The army has suffered various defeats by far smaller numbers of jihadist militants, including:
- June 2014, when 30,000 troops retreated in the face of just hundreds of ISIS militants, who went on to take the city of Mosul
- May 2015, when the city of Ramadi fell to ISIS militants after the Iraqi army withdrew.
Their frequent retreats and lackluster performance has left many Westerners frustrated, especially those directly involved in military training and funding in attempt to keep terrorist group ISIS at bay.
Here’s what you should know about the Iraqi Army’s strengths and weaknesses, and why at present, the latter outweighs the former.
Iraqi Army: What they’ve got
- Years of British and US training
- 25 billion dollars in military aid
- The backing of a global coalition against ISIS
- 40,000 fighters (Down from 250,000 in 2014)
All of this sounds as if it would give the Iraqi army an upper hand. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Billions of dollars worth of weapons have instead ended up being acquired by the Islamic State, as Iraqi soldiers are defeated (or forfeit) and their assets are robbed.
Iraqi Army: What’s holding them back?
There are numerous factors that render so much of the Iraqi Army’s assets ineffective, feeble when faced with the slightest threat. These include:
- Poor leadership: When the US disbanded Iraq’s old army in 2003, some of its most experienced fighters went on to become key figures running the Islamic State. Today’s army, cobbled together by US advisors, lacks in qualified leadership, legacy, and sophistication.
- Low morale: In early 2014, months of underpayment or nonpayment lead to worsening morale and high levels of desertion. What’s left is a chaotic and unstructured chain of command — and worse, a lack of motivation
- Corruption: Some say the Iraqi Army’s greatest enemy is corruption, as the military’s breakdown may in part be due to commanding officers’ ripping off soldiers’ pay, resulting in poor trust
- Sectarian divide: The Iraqi Army is composed of Sunnis and Shiites, the animosity between which make cooperation and cohesion difficult, if not impossible.
In contrast, while ISIS may be much smaller in number, they excel where the Iraqi Army cannot: with cohesive politics, unified conviction, and military sophistication and professionalism.
Unfortunately for the Iraqi Army, no amount of money, firearms, or powerful allies can substitute for these very factors.