Manpower and Training

Iraq Table of Contents

Historically, under Turkish rule, Iraqi conscripts were often transported to distant locations within the vast Ottoman Empire, and they were not allowed to return home for many years. During the early years of independence, conditions of service were nearly as onerous: pay was irregular, troops were misused, and retention beyond the compulsory period remained a common practice. Throughout modern history, the majority of conscripts have fulfilled much of their service obligation in the rugged mountains of northern Iraq, where conditions were Spartan at best and were often very dangerous. Although conditions improved markedly during the 1970s, and conscription was no longer as widely resented as it had been for more than a century, there were still draft dodgers, and they were routinely court-martialed and executed in public.

In the past, deferments and exemptions from conscription were usually granted generously. Until 1958 exemptions could be bought. In 1988 deferments were still available to full-time students, to hardship cases, and to those with brothers serving in the military. The increase in manpower needs created by the rapid growth of the army after 1973 and the war with Iran after 1980 resulted in a tightening of previously liberal exemption policies, however. In 1987 observers estimated that a total of 3 million Iraqi males, aged eighteen to forty-five, were fit for military service. An additional 2 million Iraqi females in the same age group were potentially available for military service.

Males were liable to conscription until the age of fortyfive . In 1980 the two-year compulsory period of service was extended without specific time limitations, to support the war effort; many trained technicians started serving as long as five years. A man could also volunteer--for a two-year term that could be extended by periods of two years--as an alternative to conscription or for additional service at any time between ages eighteen and forty-three. After two years of compulsory active service, both conscripts and volunteers were obliged to spend eighteen years in a reserve unit. These reserve units received intensive training during the mid-1980s because many reservists were called up to fill manpower shortages caused by the Iran-Iraq War and to relieve temporarily those on active duty.

Although women were not conscripted, under a law passed in 1977 they could be commissioned as officers if they held a health-related university degree, and they could be appointed as warrant officers or NCOs in army medical institutes if they were qualified nurses. The vast majority of women in the armed forces held administrative or medical-related positions, but an increasing number of women performed in combat functions after 1981. Women were serving in combat roles both in the air force and in the Air Defense Command in 1987. This integration of women into the military reflected the shortage of trained males.

Most army officers came from the Military College in Baghdad, which was founded in 1924. Candidates for the college were physically qualified, secondary-school graduates of Iraqi nationality, who had demonstrated political loyalty. Cadets were divided into two groups, combatant (combat arms) and administrative (technology and administration). They studied common subjects during the first two years, and they specialized according to their group designation in the final year. On graduation cadets received commissions as second lieutenants in the regular army. Some were granted higher ranks because of voluntary service on the war front.

Another source of army officers was the Reserve College founded in 1952. This school enrolled two classes annually, one for those who held professional degrees, such as medicine and pharmacy, and one for secondary-school graduates. During the 1970s, approximately 2,000 reserve officers were graduated each year; those with professional degrees were commissioned as second lieutenants, and those without a college education were appointed as warrant officers. The army also maintained a system of service schools for training in combat arms as well as in technical and administrative services. Most of those schools, located in or near Baghdad, have conducted additional courses for both officers and NCOs since 1980. Since 1928 the army has also maintained a two-year staff college to train selected officers in all services for command and staff positions.

In mid-1977 the navy opened its own officer training academy. This comparatively new institution was called the Arabian Gulf Academy for Naval Studies. Since 1933 the air force has maintained its own college as a source of officer personnel. In 1971 the college was moved from Rashid Airbase (southeast of Baghdad) to Tikrit. It offered administrative and flight training courses as well as training for technical specialists. (Iraqi officers and pilots received training in several foreign countries as well in the 1970s; pilots were trained in India and in France, and especially in the Soviet Union.)

The highest level of military training in Iraq was a one-year course conducted at Al Bakr University for Higher Military Studies (also called the War College) in Baghdad, founded in 1977. At the War College, high-ranking officers studied modern theories and methods of warfare in preparation for assuming top command and staff positions in the armed forces. Little was known about the content of Iraq's military training, although political and ideological indoctrination appeared to accompany military training at all levels. In any case, the seven years of combat in the Iran-Iraq War could only have enhanced technical skills; many of these officers presumably applied their theoretical training in conducting the war. By Western accounts, however, the battlefield performance of military leaders did not reflect sophisticated grasp of strategy and tactics.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress