The Iraqi army’s defeat by Islamic State (IS) fighters in Mosul in June came as a surprise. Although the Iraqi military is superior in terms of numbers of soldiers and arms, its fighters quickly deserted their posts.
The army is still unable to undertake serious operations to retake control of the cities that have fallen under IS control despite ongoing US-led air cover. The reality of the Iraqi army since its inception is that it has never won a battle against another armed force. In fact, it has exhibited power only when cracking down on popular protests.
The Iraqi army has suffered over the years from two major flaws: it was not designed to defend the country, but rather the governing authorities, and it has always been plagued by sectarianism.
The concept upon which the Iraqi army was created by the British, whose forces entered Iraq in 1921, was strongly influenced by its timing. During that period, the British were having to confront persistent protests by Iraqis.
After the eruption of the 1920 revolt, British forces proposed establishing an army to deal with such rebellions. Three years later, in 1924, the newly established Iraqi army headed north to Sulaimaniyah to suppress the Kurdish movement.
In 1933, the army went to the Mosul region, where it committed the Simele massacre, killing people in 63 Christian villages. In 1963, it clamped down on Rumaitha. The military’s history of suppressing the Iraqi people culminated under Saddam Hussein and included brutal attacks against Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south in the 1980s and 1990s.