Why did the Iraqi army collapse in Mosul?

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A picture taken with a mobile phone shows an armoured vehicle belonging to Iraqi security forces in flames on June 10, 2014, after hundreds of militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched a major assault on the security forces in Mosul. (Photo: AFP)

By: Mostafa Nasser

Published Friday, June 13, 2014

The suspicious collapse of the Iraqi army in the face of ISIS’s onslaught has raised many questions as to why its 600,000 soldiers have disappeared into thin air, as well as questions about the fate of billions of dollars spent on training and equipping this army. According to some military experts, one cause of the army’s weakness could be the absence of a unifying doctrine within its ranks.

Baghdad – What happened in Iraq in the past few days is not only a military collapse, but also solid proof of the government’s failure to provide security and basic services to the citizens, and to protect the people and the state’s assets and natural resources.

But how and why did this happen? So far, the government has not been able to give answers, but the information available indicates a series of mistakes had been made, precipitating an unprecedented collapse of a 600,000-strong army with an annual budget of $5.6 billion.

According to experts, the government allocates $3 billion annually for armament, and a similar amount for operational costs, wages, and daily expenses, in addition to $1 billion allocated to the emergency budget of the Ministry of Defense. This amount is usually spent in full each year, given the unstable security situation in many parts of Iraq.

Military affairs expert Dr. Hisham al-Hashemi says that the Iraqi army comprises 15 divisions, each made up of 12,000 to 15,000 troops, in addition to the Air Force, the Navy, the Security Forces, Intelligence, and Military Police. The total number of troops is 600,000, which should be sufficient to thwart any plot or attack against Iraq, he says, “were it not for the weak military spirit, corruption among officers, and the desertion of the officers in charge of the Ninawa Operations Command.”

Explaining the causes of the security forces’ retreat, Dr. Hashemi said, “The defeat is the result of military commanders relying on political parties to justify their actions and protect them, while neglecting their military responsibilities, and being preoccupied with side activities for profiteering, as well as their lack of moral integrity.”

Local media had reported the desertion of Deputy Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Abboud Qanbar and Land Forces Commander Lieutenant General Ali Ghaidan, following the withdrawal from Mosul. However, the two men have denied this, saying that they have been carrying out their duties in Baghdad since Tuesday – the day ISIS took control of the majority of Mosul. So far, the government has not laid any blame on them.

Qanbar and Ghaidan had returned on Tuesday evening to Baghdad from Erbil via Baghdad International Airport. When officials at the airport were asked why they had allowed the two men to pass despite reports about their involvement in surrendering Mosul, the answer was that there was no outstanding warrant for their arrest. On the next day, the two generals donned their uniforms and went to their offices without facing any questions about what had happened.

Ali al-Nour, another military affairs expert, believes that the army’s collapse is not the result of a single mistake, but rather of the accumulation of many political and military errors, in addition to what he described as the state’s failure to contain corruption, and provide basic security and services for the citizens.

Nour told Al-Akhbar that what happened in Mosul was not just the result of corruption, but the culmination of all of the corruption Iraq has seen since 2003, pointing out that what happened was a result of the lack of proper security consultation, sectarian quotas in security posts, and the lack of seriousness among politicians when it comes to state-building after 2003.

He added, “Corruption is institutionalized in Iraq. It is therefore natural for the military to be part of the corruption, with many officials profiteering from it, without performing their duty. They sell fuel, vehicles, and weapons, smuggle prisoners, and extort people.” Nour also pointed out that the army has no doctrine, save for sectarianism.

For instance, he said, a Shia soldier might not be interested in defending a Sunni city, and vice versa, pointing out that an army’s doctrine should be a combination of emotional and intellectual bonds that the army has failed to develop, even though soldiers are paid more than university professors. Nour said, “The ordinary soldier is paid a [monthly] salary of $1,300 and above, while professors earn only $1000.” In addition, officers with the rank of Major General and above are paid more than $6,000 a month, which is more than what a deputy minister earns.

Nour continued, “The problem of armament and empty slogans, which led to the U.S. withdrawal without preparing an alternative, was also a big mistake.” The military expert then drew attention to the growing phenomenon of “ghost soldiers,” or soldiers enrolled in the army without being assigned duties or even attending, for which officers are paid half of the ghost soldiers’ salaries, all with the knowledge of senior officials at the Army Command and some MPs.

In the opinion of the military expert, what happened in Iraq is a reflection of the troubling situation in the region, but also the result of the huge wealth that has been squandered by sectarian quota-based clientelism. Nour said it was unlikely that assistance from the U.S. army or any international assistance to the Iraqi army would solve the security crisis, unless all crises in the region were addressed together.

Nour downplayed the army’s rapid collapse in Mosul, however, saying that he expected the regions seized by ISIS would be retaken.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Nouri al-Maliki has announced the formation of a new auxiliary army, the restructuring of the regular army, and the re-evaluation of existing security plans, after the failures of field commanders in their commissions.

In this regard, the military expert deemed the move to be “similar to the formation of the People's Army of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, though this time it is different for being voluntary rather than compulsory.” Nour then pointed out that this step could be invested properly to avoid forming any sectarian militias or vigilante popular committees. “Maliki no doubt regrets dismantling the Sahawat forces, which were an important auxiliary force alongside the army in recent years, specifically in the areas currently occupied by ISIS,” he added.

Military and security centers have started registering volunteers wishing to fight against ISIS from the provinces of the South, Middle Euphrates, and Baghdad. According to unofficial reports, 16,000 volunteers have so far enlisted from these areas.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


We've seen collaspes like this before. The Quin Chinese Army in 1894, Greek Army in Turkey 1923, The South Vietnamese Army in 1975, the Congo Army 1994, 2004, 2012. When the society is a kleptocracy, where theft & corruption are institutionalized, the grunt on the ground will melt away.

The whole invasion of Iraq, from start to finish, was one big act of corruption . Take the Americans, for example. What was the goal of the US when they invaded Normandy in 1944? To defeat the Nazis. What was the goal of Pres Bush the Sot? To seize the Oil Production centers!!! The Iraqi Army was not defeated, it's officers ordered it to return to its barracks because everyone hated Saddam.

The absolutely disasterous thing Iraq did was De-Baathification purge of the Army and government personnel. That absolutely gutted society!!! I can see what Nour Al Malaki wants---a Shia dominate society. the problem with that is Non Shai won't fight if they are marginalized.

This is further complicated by Arab society in general. Their first locality is to their Tribe before their country---Late Paleothic mind sets. Itaq is like Lybia, ones identity and loyalty is not to the elected Libyian government but to ones tribe or militia

I want to hear Amal al-Khalil continue to say Qatar, who accused the Maliki government of provoking the ISIS massacres, is still a part of "the axis of resistance."

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