President Barham Salih lays a wreath of flowers on the monument of the Unknown Soldier in Baghdad on the occasion of the 98th anniversary of the establishment of the Iraqi army, January 6, 2019. Photo: Office of the Iraqi Presidency
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraqi President Barham Salih called for a strengthening of the country’s armed forces on Sunday in a message marking 98 years since the establishment of the Iraqi army.
“On the anniversary of the foundation of the Iraqi army, we remember the feats of the army and its formations in defending the homeland, most recently eradicating Daesh’s terror,” Salih tweeted, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (ISIS).
“While we extend congratulations to our people on this anniversary, we emphasize the necessity of bolstering the capabilities of the army and enabling it as a professional national institution for all Iraqis with their different affiliations, protector of the homeland and its federal democratic constitutional regime,” he added.
Salih laid a wreath of flowers on the monument of the Unknown Soldier during a ceremony in Baghdad.
In his own statement on Facebook, Mohammed al-Halbousi, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, echoed Salih’s call for a stronger Iraqi army.
He shared the “keenness of the legislative authority to support the independence of the military institution to be far from political tendencies,” and pledged to “work with the government to have a strong army, and we will support the conclusion of relevant agreements in the interest of enhancing its capabilities.”
Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, commander-in-chief of the Iraqi forces, spoke at Sunday’s ceremony to thank the armed forces.
“The brave Iraqi army will remain for all Iraqis and be aware that it is the protector of diversity and coexistence under the roof of the constitution and our great home, Iraq,” Abdul-Mahdi said.
The British created Iraq’s first modern military battalion on January 6, 1921 during its mandate over the country following World War One.
The military became highly influential in the years that followed, with dissident officers going on to launch a coup against the British-installed royal family.
During Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iraq’s military became one of the most powerful in the Middle East, with generous US support. Its tactical limitations were exposed however during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, which ended in stalemate.
Through the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s, Iraqi forces were used to crush Kurdish and Shiite resistance to the regime.
In 1991, Saddam’s army was swiftly beaten back by a US-led coalition after his ill-fated invasion of Kuwait. Sanctions and weapons inspections further enfeebled Iraq’s military until its ultimate defeat in the 2003 US invasion.
In one of the biggest strategic blunders of the post-2003 occupation, Iraq’s armed forces were disbanded, leaving disgruntled soldiers unemployed. Many would later join the insurgency that would later create ISIS.
Massive foreign investment in the new Iraqi army failed to prevent its humiliating route in 2014 when ISIS conquered swathes of the country’s north and cities along the Tigris River Valley.
Supplemented by another US-led coalition, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias, the Iraqi army was able to declare the defeat of ISIS in December 2017 at a tremendous cost to life and infrastructure. A low scale ISIS insurgency is ongoing.