Eighteen years after the restructuring of the Iraqi army following the US invasion of the country in 2003, many military officials and experts believe that the army is suffering from the aging of its members and soldiers, especially after the war on the Islamic State caused about 50,000 wounded among its ranks without new compensation.
Iraqi army situation
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According to a high-ranking officer who worked in the current Iraqi army until his retirement two years ago, the army’s number is 310 thousand affiliated with civilian and military, and includes 14 military divisions scattered in various provinces, except for the Kurdistan region.
The Iraqi army has relied on the volunteer system since 2003, when the US civil administrator for the country, Paul Bremer, abolished the compulsory conscription system that supplied the country with thousands of soldiers every year.
With the country’s return to the compulsory conscription system faltering, the army remains dependent on volunteering, which has witnessed a significant decline during the past years due to the economic crisis and the failure to pass the budget last year, which prompted many officials and experts to warn of the aging of the army.
A noticeable warning was issued about 3 months ago by a member of the Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, Karim Abu Souda, who stressed the Iraqi army’s need to renew its blood and appoint at least 50,000 new soldiers.
Abu Souda added, in a statement to a media outlet, that about 50,000 wounded in the Ministry of Defense must be honored, retired, and replaced, noting that the soldiers’ ages have become large compared to the military tasks assigned to them, he said.
The Iraqi Ministry of Defense did not announce the opening of the door to volunteering within the army during the past years, and the last door to volunteering was opened in late 2019, when thousands of Iraqis submitted their papers for recruitment into the army, but the lack of approval of the country’s general budget for the year 2020 and the absence of any job opportunities for the Iraqi Ministry of Defense The current year, led to the rejection of these applicants for recruitment.
Many officials and experts point out that several reasons prevent the renewal of blood in the ranks of the Iraqi army, most notably the abolition of compulsory conscription in 2003, which has been in place since the formation of the Iraqi National Army in 1921.
In this regard, a member of the Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, AH Reem Kamal Khorshid, said in his interview with Al Jazeera Net, that the door to volunteer for the Iraqi army has not been opened for years, noting that the failure to return to the compulsory service system and the immaturity of the special bill is a problem that is still before it. Council of Ministers.
And Khorshid continues in his speech to Al-Jazeera Net that there are factors that require a return to the compulsory service system, including the old age of soldiers and the aging of the Iraqi army, as well as the economic benefits of this system by absorbing thousands of unemployed Iraqi youth.
As for the member of the Parliamentary Legal Committee, Rashid Al-Azzawi, for his part, he believes that it is in the country’s interest to return to conscription in order to strengthen national unity and reduce the burden on the state, noting that in 2006 the first draft of a draft project on compulsory re-enlistment was presented to Parliament.
But Al-Azzawi confirmed in a previous interview with Al-Jazeera Net that the draft project was not put to a vote in Parliament because of the great sectarian tensions that the country was witnessing that prevented it at the time.
On the other hand, security and strategic expert Fadel Abu Ragheef believes that the strength of the armies appreciates their technological capabilities and operational expertise that qualifies them to protect the country and repel any attack.
Abu Ragheef adds to Al Jazeera Net that the explosive budgets during the past decade led to the opening of the door to volunteering in the army without planning and in an ill-considered manner, which led to the emergence of many high military ranks within the army, which he called the ranks of (integration) in relation to the inclusion of many individuals and their promotion to officers without controls specific, as he put it.
Abu Ragheef reveals that the army currently possesses 97 officers at the rank of (team) at a time when the former Iraqi army did not include more than 6 officers of this rank, and this is considered slack in the ranks of the army, noting that despite this, the army possesses qualified officers and some of them lecture in international security institutes.
As for the army’s aging with regard to soldiers, Abu Ragheef believes that Iraq needs to open the door to volunteering in its ranks in order to renew blood in it, but the current economic crisis prevents that.
In this context, researcher in security affairs Sarmad Al-Bayati believes that the aging of the security forces does not stop with the Iraqi army only, but extends to the police services, pointing out that many of the numbers of current soldiers have exceeded 40 years of age.
Al-Bayati continues that if the situation continues as it is, the problem of aging among the Iraqi army soldiers will worsen, unlike officers whose duties are usually more in line with their age and get experience as they advance through the military ranks.
The aging of the army is not only related to the efficiency factor, as it goes beyond the economic issue, as the training of the international forces for Iraqi soldiers is of great importance, and therefore, because many soldiers are over 40 years old, the economic feasibility of training is limited.
Al-Bayati confirms this, adding that the stage of giving to soldiers should not be less than 20 years, if the soldier has obtained training at an early age, and then can train those who are younger than him, in contrast to the current reality in which international forces train soldiers while they are young Too much for the standard age of soldiers in the world, according to him.
Solutions and Obstacles
Al-Bayati believes that one of the possible solutions is to restore the compulsory service or to retire the dismissed army and police, and then provide the opportunity to recruit thousands of young soldiers, with the possibility of reducing the salaries of new soldiers from about a thousand dollars to about 700 only, which will be a relief to the Iraqi budget.
On the other hand, political blocs believe that the compulsory conscription legislation faces technical and material obstacles, as the representative of the Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, Mahdi Taqi Ismail, indicates that the reintroduction of conscription needs extensive and extensive study before its enactment.
In a previous interview with Al Jazeera Net, Ismail pointed out that recruitment needs millions of dollars, while Iraq suffers from major financial problems, in light of the Ministry of Defense’s need for infrastructure in training centers and recruitment directorates, as well as the government’s ability to compel those assigned to join military service.