Since the fall of Mosul it has sometimes been said by Iraq’s detractors that there is no longer any such thing as the Iraqi security forces (ISF). This is clearly nonsense and those peddling this line are fully aware that it is nonsense. They are motivated by schadenfreude – a foolish desire to mock Iraq in its moment of suffering.
In fact the ISF is fighting and winning at many points of the map. The ISF hold the longest frontline against Daesh of any armed force. The ISF have suffered the greatest casualties of any of the forces facing Daesh. The ISF have been more actively fighting the Salafi jihadists of Daesh than any other force for well over a decade of continuous combat. And the ISF is steadily recovering its strength. Those who mock the ISF should consider that Iraq will recover its vigor and that Iraqis have long memories.
As Iraq rebuilds its military forces it is vital to correctly diagnose the problem that needs to be remedied. Underlying all other symptoms the central reason for the defeats suffered by the ISF is a failure of political and military leadership. Almost all Iraq’s military problems stem from the failure of leaders to anticipate crises, plan for them, allocate resources and fight corruption. As one Iraqi Army officer told the author after the fall of Mosul: “this is not just the army’s failure, it is the government’s failure.”
But smart, brave leadership can fix a lot of Iraq’s military problems too. Iraqi political and military leaders can work hard to maintain the cooperation of international security partners, in finishing off the current war against Daesh. Iraqi political leaders can continue to re-staff the military with more capable uniformed leadership. Political and military leaders can push real anti-corruption reforms and the tough application of military laws. Smart leaders can chose to resist pressure to build new institutions and instead can back the sensible option of developing existing institutions like MoD and MoI. And visionary leaders can fight the remainder of this war against Daesh in a manner that will support national reconciliation, using tools like the decentralization of local security decision-making and recruitment.
Iraq stands at a crossroads. The choice is very simple. Put the right people in charge of security and give them the right authorities and resources and allies. Or witness the further deterioration of Iraq’s stability and unity.