Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism forces known as the ‘Golden Division’ were once derided as the ‘dirty division,’ accused of murder and running secret jails, but today they are hailed as the only competent Iraqi Force in the fight against the Islamic State, a spanning write up from Loveday Morris of the Washington Post reveals.
The U.S. and Iraqi led Anti-ISIS campaign has relied on this division to spearhead every major operation against ISIS. Retired Lt. Gen Bednarek, commander of U.S. Iraqi Security Force training forces from 2013-2015, told The Washington Post the division was the “lead sled dog.” Bednarek elaborated that the golden division is the “most professional technically capable force.”
The division reports directly to the office of the prime minister of Iraq and is modeled after the U.S. special operations community. The direct chain of command to the Prime Minister has helped insulate the elite counter-terrorism force from becoming embroiled in sectarian conflict. Unlike the regular Iraqi Security Forces, the golden division is ethnically diverse, made up of both Shiite and Sunni, so averse to sectarian tensions.
The ‘dirty division’ moniker came under the tenure of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki was accused of using the division to do his secret bidding and remove his political enemies. Maliki in fact purged the regular Iraqi army, rendering them largely useless against the growing threat of ISIS. When the regular Iraqi Security Forces crumbled against ISIS, the golden division seized the lead role in the fight to retake territory, Morris reports.
The two year fight against ISIS is beginning to take a toll on the golden division. “There’s a weakness in the army and other forces which has increased the pressure on us,” Brig. Gen. Haider al-Obeidi and golden division commander told Morris. Al-Obeidi lamented that regular Iraqi army and police forces were unable to hold territory the golden division seized from ISIS.
The two year fight has also reduced the number of golden division commanders, who are difficult to replace because it takes so long to train them. The strain on the golden division and the regular Iraqi army’s inability to hold territory highlights what some see as a serious flaw in the Obama administration’s strategy in Iraq.
Obama has predicated the U.S. role in Iraq as a train, advise, and assist mission. Yet the golden division, which was a preexisting force, is still the only real battlefield capable force to consistently take the fight to ISIS. The regular Iraqi army is still plagued by sectarian tensions and inept leadership, raising questions as to their ability to hold the peace once all territory is seized from ISIS.
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