By Ahmed Ali
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced major changes to the leadership structure of the Iraqi Security Forces. These changes include high-level leadership, operation commands, and division leadership. Additionally, the Baghdad Operations Command has absorbed adjacent commands in the Karkh and Risafa sectors of Baghdad. The advantage this realignment produces to Iraq’s security posture is not yet clear. The changes indicate, however, Maliki’s approach as he faces mounting security challenges that will also need political solutions.
A waveof attacks on Monday claimed over 100 lives in Baghdad, Samarra, and Basra marking a continued increase in nationwide attacks in Iraq that have persisted against the backdrop of Iraq’s political crisis. Ostensibly in response, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki announcedmajor changes on May 21 within the leadership structure of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The announcement from Maliki’s office did not specify the changes but stated that the decision was taken after “consultations with security officials.” Nonetheless, various reports indicate that the changes included the upper echelon of the ISF and reportedly some of Maliki’s closest military aides. The changes include:
The removalof the Ground Forces Commander, General Ali Ghedan, and director of the Office of Commander in Chief (OCINC), General Farouk al-Araji. Both of are trusted military advisers to Maliki. Reportedly, General Ghedan will be replaced by Risafa Sector commander General Salahaddin Mustafa. Al-Araji’s position will be filled by General Qassim Atta who until recently was the operations director of the national intelligence and was previously spokesperson of the BOC. Additionally, the chief of military intelligence, General Hatem al-Magsusi, has been relieved and his duties will be assumed by Brigadier General Mohammed Al-Karawi, who most recently was the commander of the 47th Brigade, 12th division Iraq Army (IA). Al-Karawi’s 47th brigade is stationed near the Hawija protest site.
The removalof the Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) Commander, General Ahmed Hashem. He will be replaced by 10th division commander, Major General Abed al-Amir al-Shamari. Al-Shamari has been promoted to Lieutenant General and has immediately been transferred to lead the BOC. Al-Shamari’s replacement will be Staff Brigadier General Fadhel Jawad Ali who most recently was deputy commander of the Ninewa-based 3rd infantry division. Related to the BOC personnel changes, its deputy commander, General Hasan al-Baydhani has retired. Moreover, orders have reportedlybeen issued to disband the Baghdad Karkh and Risafa sector commands and subsume them within a centralized structure of the BOC.
Division leadership changes:
General Ismael al-Dulaimicommander of the Anbar-based 7th IA division, was removedand his replacement is not yet known. Commander of the Salahaddin-based 4thIA division, General Hamed Gomar, has been replaced by Brigadier General Nathir Mohammed Goran of the 5th IA division. Finally, the commander of the 11th IA division, Imad al-Zuhairi, was replaced by Major General Rahim Rasan who previously served as commander of the Muthana Brigade, which operated in the vicinity of Baghdad and is criticized by the area’s predominantly Iraqi Sunni residents for its heavy-handedness.
Not all of these changes have been confirmed by the Iraqi government, though Maliki held a news conference on May 20 in which he declaredupcoming changes within the ISF given the increase in violence. Despite the wide reporting of these changes, there have not been any denials thus far. If true, these changes will be the most wide-scale since December 2009, when Maliki replacedthe former commander of the BOC, General Aboud Qanbar, after major bombings shook Baghdad between August and December of 2009.
Implications of the changes
Maliki’s spokesperson, Ali al-Musawi, deniedthat the changes were the product of “political pressure” that has escalated recently. Security chiefs have been called to appear in the Iraqi Council of Representatives (CoR) in sessions intended to discuss the security situation. Al-Musawi instead attributed the changes to military protocols and security developments. Notably, a Maliki ally in the CoR laudedthe changes and commented that they are necessary to face the current security challenges.
Regardless of the reasons, the security environment in Iraq has been recently deteriorating. This was evidenced by the number of casualties reportedin April, which included 712 people killed and 1,633 injured. This represented the deadliest month in Iraq since June 2008 according to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Additionally, the ISF has suffereda number of recent setbacks including the April 23 Hawija operation, which turned bloody and triggered retaliatory attacks on the ISF. Most notably, the ISF was forced to retreat from the town of Salman Beg, which was briefly controlled by gunmen that may have included elements of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
In light of these events and the upcoming elections season in Iraq, Maliki cannot appear weak. It is therefore likely that he chose to initiate changes that send the message that security provision is still a top priority. Additionally, the changes can be seen as an attempt to change a negative public image, with every bombing or attack tarnishing the reputation of the ISF and Maliki. All positions impacted by the changes are critical components to Maliki’s security architecture.
These measures tend to take time to demonstrate effectiveness, but their short-term impact will be the increased centralization of security control by commanders loyal to Maliki. Operationally, the current ISF approach has not yielded results. Traditionally, the ISF constrain themselves with a reactive operational nature as opposed to the proactive nature that tends to quell armed groups. The difficulties this tactical doctrine creates are compounded by politics. The security environment is linked to political conditions, and Iraqi politics has been especially tense since December of 2012 with the onset of anti-government protests by the Iraqi Sunnis. Hence, governmental attention to protesters’ demands will be necessary to ensure that the security changes are effective. AQI thrives in moments of ethno-sectarian tensions and denying it that opportunity is imperative for the Iraqi government. Likewise, and for the changes to be effective, the Iraqi government has to confront any attempts by Iraqi Shi‘a militias to reactivate their operations as allegedby members of Iraqiyya. As these changes are confirmed, an indicator of their robustness will be increased ISF operations targeting AQI and Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshabandia (JRTN). More importantly, the future of current Maliki confidantes, Generals Ali Ghedan and Farouk al-Araji will be a sign of Maliki’s plans to confront security challenges.
Ahmed Ali is an Iraq Research Analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.