TAJI, Iraq, Jan. 7, 2005 — Iraq celebrated Army Day on Jan. 6, marking the 84th anniversary of the activation of the Iraqi Army on Jan. 6, 1921.
Ceremonies across the country recalled the Army’s past service and sacrifice and showcased current and future capabilities. Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Minister of Defense Hazam Sha’alan, Minister of State Cassim Daoud, and Gen. Babakir Al Zibari, the Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Armed Forces, presided over ceremonies held at Taji Military Base, north of Baghdad, before returning to Baghdad to conduct ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Prime Minister Allawi addressed the Iraqi Armed Forces in particular and the people of Iraq more generally, in his speech at Taji. “Free brothers, Iraq is facing a difficult and complicated situation especially in this period, but together we are going to build a strong and independent Iraq, a country free of oppression and depression, a country based on the power of law, honesty and truth,”? Allawi said.
“It’s a difficult mission, but we will do it. You brothers, members of the army forces, will face crucial challenges, but I am confident of your ability to overcome them with your heads up. Your solid will is an advantage to defeat these challenges. Together we will win. Together we will defeat our enemies. Together we will build our beloved Iraq.”?
Army Day ceremonies around Iraq including reading of a proclamation issued by Gen. Babakir that recalled the proud history of the Iraqi Army, announced the activation of nine Iraqi Army divisions, and explained the incorporation of the National Guard into the Regular Army. This move will “ensure unity of command and effort to meet the security challenges we currently face,”? Babakir noted.
During the ceremony at Taji, Prime Minister Allawi and Minister Sha’alan named Iraqi Army Lt. Gen. Abdul Qader Mohammed Jassim, who was the Iraqi ground forces commander in Operation Al Fajr (Fallujah), the Land Forces Commander, with responsibility for the Iraqi Army. A pass in review then showcased some of the capabilities of the Army.
Elements representing each of Iraq’s Divisions, units of the Iraqi Intervention Force, including the 6th Brigade, and elements of the 1st Mechanized Brigade participated in the military parade, driving nearly one-hundred vehicles including armored personnel carriers, tanks, cargo trucks and gun trucks, past the reviewing stand.
Following the events at Taji, Prime Minister Allawi conducted a separate ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Baghdad. The 91 cadets that made up the inaugural class of the Iraqi Military Academy, which graduated yesterday, participated in the ceremony, which included a wreath laying event. These cadets were then sworn in as officers in the Iraqi army. The ceremony also recognized the service of several Iraqi army units that participated in major operations since the Transfer of Sovereignty.
Over the past six months, Iraqi forces have fought alongside Coalition forces in Najaf, Samarra, Fallujah, Baghdad, North Babil, and a host of other locations that now includes Mosul. In Fallujah alone, Iraqi forces lost eight of their members and had more than 40 wounded. In the weeks to come, more units will become operational and join the Iraqi security forces already working to shoulder an increasing amount of the security tasks in their country.
While countless challenges confront Iraqi Security Forces, there have been some impressive accomplishments over the past six months. Iraq had a nascent Army just six months ago; it now has units operating throughout the country. There are 18 battalions of the Regular Army and Intervention Force in operations now, up from one operational battalion six months ago, and nine more are scheduled to become operational over the next month-and-a-half.
Iraq’s Muthanna Brigade, originally organized and trained by the Iraqis to provide local security in Baghdad, now has three battalions in operations, including one each in Baghdad, Fallujah, and North Babil, and one more in training. In addition, the Iraqi National Guard (which will be incorporated into the Regular Army), is comprised of 42 operational battalions that are increasingly well-equipped, and more will be formed, trained, and equipped in the next six months.
Despite the fact that Iraqi forces have suffered casualties in many of their operations, have been attacked multiple times each day, and have suffered losses through intimidation attacks, there remains no shortage of volunteers; in fact, basic training courses are ongoing for more than 4,000 former soldiers to fill under-strength Iraqi Regular Army and Intervention Force with additional soldiers.
The Army also now has more specialized units in its repertoire. Iraq’s Special Operations Brigade now includes a highly-trained, very well-equipped counter-terrorist force and a superb commando battalion, each of which has conducted dozens of successful operations. In addition to those elements, Iraq’s first mechanized battalion will be operational in mid-January, along with a tank company and transportation battalion; the remaining elements of the 1st Mechanized Brigade will be trained and equipped by the summer.
Iraq is also developing naval and air capabilities. Iraq’s Coastal Defense Force is now operational, with five patrol craft, 34 smaller vessels, and a naval infantry regiment that recently completed training. Iraq’s Air Force has two operational squadrons equipped with nine reconnaissance aircraft that operate during the day and at night. Two more squadrons, one comprised of three US-gifted C-130E aircraft and one comprised of two UH-1 helicopters (to be followed by 14 more UH-1s and by four Bell Jet Ranger helicopters), will stand up in mid-January.
Institution building, critical to the future strength of the Iraqi Armed Forces and Ministry of Defense, is ongoing as well. Having helped reestablish Iraq’s Military Academy, NATO Training Mission-Iraq is now helping Iraqi military leaders reestablish the Iraqi Armed Forces Officer Education System with the development of a Junior Leaders College, a Staff College, and a War College. It is also mentoring and advising senior leaders.
In addition to the growth and development of the Armed Forces, security forces belonging to the Ministry of Interior are also steadily making progress. Both the regular police and special police units will be critical to security and stability leading up to election day, on election day, and in the post-election period.
At present, the Iraqi Police Service has more than 53,000 trained and equipped police officers, up from some 26,000 six months ago. Of the 27,000 police officers who have been trained over the past six months, 13,643 were former officers who underwent three-week transition training and 13,314 were new recruits who underwent eight-week training. More than 37,000 additional police are on duty and will complete training in the months ahead.
Five police academies are now operational; together, they will soon produce nearly 4,000 new police officers each month, while additional local academies continue the transition courses for police trained before liberation. A concerted effort has recently been made to modify police training, making it more suited to preparing police officers for operations in a counterinsurgency environment.
Coupled with that change in training has been a change in the construct in which police are operating. Police stations are being hardened, communication links are being improved, more equipment and arms are being provided to police and stations, and quick reaction forces, such as SWAT teams and Emergency Response Units, are being created. Five provincial SWAT teams have already completed training; two more are in training and 13 more are scheduled for training over the next six months. Iraq’s National Emergency Response Unit is now operational as well, and its elements have conducted operations in Baghdad, Fallujah, and Mosul.
Special Police Units, none of which were envisioned six months ago, have developed into robust units capable of providing security in high-risk areas. Seven Police Commando battalions are now operational, with two more in training and additional battalions planned.
Six Public Order battalions are also operational, with six more planned. Iraq’s Mechanized Police Brigade recently completed training and will begin operations in mid-January 2005 using 50 BTR-94 wheeled, armored vehicles. Lastly, as part of Iraq’s effort to strengthen the security of its borders, Iraq’s 1st Special Border Force Battalion is operating on the Syrian border in the western Anbar Province, and the 2nd Battalion will be operational in mid-February.
Integral to the creation of these security forces is ensuring they are equipped and building adequate bases and facilities. Since July 1, Iraqi security forces have been issued more than 57 million rounds of ammunition (with another 148 million recently received and put into ammo storage areas around the country), 69,000 pistols, 46,000 AK-47s, 79,000 sets of body armor, 5,600 vehicles, and 20,900 radios.
Equally impressive is the more than $1.87 billion in ongoing construction and reconstruction projects for Iraqi security forces. Projects include four multi-brigade installations, hundreds of police stations and border forts, countless headquarters and barracks, a number of training centers, and many operating bases. More than 7,500 Iraqi workers, on average, are being employed each week in these projects.
In 2005, the focus will be the continued training, equipping, and employment of additional Iraqi security forces, developing logistical support units, building institutional capacities, completing infrastructure projects, and strengthening command and control capabilities. As in the past six months, the keys to success will undoubtedly be Iraqi leadership.
Iraqi Army Day not only marked the 84-year birthday of Iraq’s Army, it also showcased some of the progress in reestablishing the Iraqi Army since the Transfer of Sovereignty. Competent and courageous Iraqi leadership will ensure this proud tradition carries on in 2005 and beyond.