Video: Iraq army anniversary, pride or shame?

Video: Iraq army anniversary, pride or shame?
Watch Now: Baghdad held its annual parade on Friday, to mark the 96th foundation anniversary of the Iraqi Armed Forces a powerful but diversionary force in the country.
3 min read
07 Jan, 2017
The parade was held at Camp Rustamiyah in Baghdad [Anadolu]
Iraq marked on Friday its annual Armed Forces Day in a parade that symbolised the army's long history in a highly divided yet resilient country.

Opinions in Iraq remain largely split on whether the army should be a celebrated as a symbol of national pride or condemned as a tool of oppression.

First held in 1921, the day was supposed to mirror the birth of Iraq itself with the army an institution all Iraqis could rally around.

Yet the army also found itself embedded in the identity politics of the nation and Iraq's revolutionary experiments. All of the Iraqi Republic's presidents before Saddam Hussein were former military men.

Even Saddam liked to align with the country's martial spirit, granting himself the rank of marshal and seeing family members acquire high positions in the army.

The war with Iran from 1980 to 1988 saw every household in Iraq affected by the growing dominance of the military with sons and daughters called up for service and many paying with their lives.

During this period, the military became more and more a divisionary force. As the army fought against the advancing Iranian military troops, they ruthlessly suppressed alleged threats from the country's Kurdish and Shia communities killing tens of thousands as a result.

In the end, Saddam claimed victory over Iran at the end of the brutal war but at the cost of as many as 375,000 lives and effectively bankrupting the country.

But Iraq's military now earned the reputation as the best in the region, and Saddam turned soon its guns on his former Gulf patron Kuwait with troops sweeping through the country in 1990.

The occupation was short-lived with a US-led coalition driving out the Iraqi force in 1991 and causing a rout. It appeared the collapse of the army would lead to the disintegration in the country as rebellions in the north and south broke out.

Soon, Saddam used his army and air force to crush the unrest and deployed troops, police and intelligence agents to keep the country under his control, pouring in huge amounts of the Iraq's dwindling resources during the years of embargo.
In 2003, the Iraqi army collapsed again when a US-led coalition invaded the country

The Baath Party-dominated officer corps were soon replaced with members of the Shia community.

When Shia militias battled with Sunni militants (many now unemployed former soldiers), the army and US struggled to control the situation.

A small spark of hope came when the US withdrew its forces from Iraq, and it appeared the military could fend for itself. That again seemed premature when the divisionary policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki saw many Sunnis turn towards radicals in al-Qaeda.

In 2014, Islamic State group militants swept across northern Iraq, forcing many soldiers to flee south while those who surrendered were butchered by the militants.

Despite the fall of Baghdad appearing imminent, the military and Shia militias slowly rolled back IS' gains until they reached Mosul.

The Battle of Mosul is now entering its fourth month. IS militants remain entrenched in the city but the military is steadily battling through Mosul neighbourhoods.

Critics argue that the Iraq's army is a skeleton of its former self and its military is a hopscotch of militias and tribesmen. 

What many fear is that the heavy losses inflicted on the military's professional counter-terrorism outfit could lead to militias taking over the army.

Yet remarkably, with all the divisions that remain - 96 years after the armed force's creation - the country remains in one piece, despite - or due to - the military.