Iraq Table of Contents

Size, Equipment, and Organization

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. Headquartered in Baghdad, the army--of an estimated 1.7 million or more Iraqis, including reserves (actual numbers not available) 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.

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 new under arms had increased almost fourfold (see table 10, Appendix).

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 the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that 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 (see table 11, Appendix). 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.

Headquartered in Basra, the 5,000-man navy was the smallest branch of the armed forces in early 1988, and, in contrast to the Iranian navy, had played virtually no role in the war. Iraq's second naval facility at Umm Qasr took on added importance after 1980, in particular because the Shatt al Arab waterway, which leads into Basra, was the scene of extensive fighting. It was at Umm Qasr that most of the Iraqi navy's active vessels were based in early 1988. Between 1977 and 1987, Iraq purchased from the Soviet Union eight fast-attack OSA-class patrol boats--each equipped with Styx surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs). In late 1986, from Italy, Iraq obtained four Lupo class frigates, and six Wadi Assad class corvettes equipped with Otomat-2 SSMs. Although the four frigates and the six corvettes was held in Italy under an embargo imposed by the Italian government, these purchases signaled Iraq's intention to upgrade its naval power. Observers speculated that the end of the war with Iran could be followed by a rapid expansion of the Iraqi navy, which could exercise its influence in northern Persian Gulf waters (see table 12, Appendix).

In 1987 the Iraqi air force consisted of 40,000 men, of whom about 10,000 were attached to its subordinate Air Defense Command. The air force was headquartered in Baghdad, and major bases were located at Basra, H-3 (site of a pump station on the oil pipeline in western Iraq), Kirkuk, Mosul, Rashid, and Ash Shuaybah. Iraq's more than 500 combat aircraft were formed into two bomber squadrons, eleven fighter-ground attack squadrons, five interceptor squadrons, and one counterinsurgency squadron of 10 to 30 aircraft each. Support aircraft included two transport squadrons. As many as ten helicopter squadrons were also operational, although these formed the Army Air Corps. The Air Defense Command piloted the MiG-25, MiG-21, and various Mirage interceptors and manned Iraq's considerable inventory of surfaceto -air missiles (SAMs).

The equipment of the air force and the army's air corps, like that of the other services, was primarily of Soviet manufacture. After 1980, however, in an effort to diversify its sources of advanced armaments, Iraq turned to France for Mirage fighters and for attack helicopters. Between 1982 and 1987, Iraq received or ordered a variety of equipment from France, including more than 100 Mirage F-1s, about 100 Gazelle, Super-Frelon, and Alouette helicopters, and a variety of air-to-surface and air-to-air missiles, including Exocets. Other attack helicopters purchased included the Soviet Hind equipped with AT-2 Swatter, and BO-105s equipped with AS-11 antitank guided weapons. In addition, Iraq bought seventy F-7 (Chinese version of the MiG-21) fighters, assembled in Egypt. Thus Iraq's overall airpower was considerable (see table 13, Appendix).

Although Iraq expanded its arms inventory, its war efforts may have been hindered by poor military judgment and by lack of resolve. Saddam Husayn was the country's head of state and premier as well as the chairman of both the RCC and the Baath Party; moreover, in 1984 he assumed the rank of field marshal and appointed himself commander in chief of the Iraqi armed forces. Iraqi propaganda statements claimed that Saddam Husayn had "developed new military ideas and theories of global importance," but few Western military analysts gave credence to such claims. Since 1980 General Adnan Khairallah, who served as both deputy commander in chief of the armed forces and minister of defense, was the highest officer in the military chain of command. In 1987 he also assumed the position of deputy prime minister. His multiple roles reflected the predominance of the army in the organizational structure of the armed forces. Sattar Ahmad Jassin was appointed secretary general of defense and adjutant of the armed forces in 1985. General Abd al Jabar Shanshal assumed the position of chief of the armed forces general staff in 1984. Frequent changes at the general staff level indicated to foreign observers that 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.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress