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Iraq War: Who is Fighting It?

Armies, Militias and Groups in Combat in Iraq


The Iraq war has become increasingly difficult to understand from afar because there seem to be so many parties fighting it, and because they are now engaged in multiple wars. Here is a breakdown of the the armies, militias and groups who are fighting.

U.S. Military

The U.S. military remains the largest fighting force in Iraq. There are 144,000 troops in Iraq as of July, 2008, down from 166,000 troops in the winter of 2007. According to President Bush in July, 2008, all of the troops sent as part of a surge force to Iraq would be returned soon, and further reductions would be considered later in the year. According to Bush on July 31, 2008, the U.S. should consider itself to be still "at war," although "Al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq .... the terrorists remain dangerous and they are determined to strike our country and our allies again."

Also see: Iraq War Results & Statistics (Liberal Politics)

Multinational forces (besides the United States)

Finding an accurate count of foreign troops in Iraq has proved difficult. There are competing numbers issued from the U.S. government and, of course, contributing countries raise and reduce their troop numbers periodically. Non U.S. forces make up about 10% of foreign troops.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, there were 21 non-U.S. militaries in Iraq as of August, 2006: . "These 21 countries were: Albania, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, South Korea, and the United Kingdom."

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)

Al Qaida in Iraq, founded in 2004, is made up of foreign fighters who may have been affiliated with the Al Qaida core group in Afghanistan, and Sunni Iraqis, especially unemployed youth. The group has been responsible for a significant number of suicide attacks. Its practice of killing Iraqis who are seen as American collaborators has soured supporters, and many in Iraq see AQI as diluting a primary struggle against foreign (American and coalition) occupiers.

Although the relationship between bin Laden's organization, Al Qaida, and "Al Qaida in Iraq" is in question, the American approach has treated the group as a target in the "war on terror" and, lately, as its most important foe in the region.

Read more: Al Qaeda in Iraq

Islamic Army of Iraq

The Islamic Army of Iraq is a Sunni militia composed primarily of former Baathists (the governing party / ideology in Saddam Hussein's Iraq). The group is part of what is called the Sunni insurgency. Its attacks are aimed at undermining the current composition of the post-Hussein government and at forestalling Shiite political power in Iraq, and at eliminating American and other foreign troops from the country. However, any ideological goals are subordinate to its struggle with other Sunni groups and with Al Qaeda in Iraq, for control of various areas. Battles between The Islamic Army of Iraq and Al Qaeda in Iraq escalated in the fall of 2007, especially in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

1920 Revolution Brigades

This Sunni militia comprises former members of Saddam Hussein's army. It's primary objective is to eliminate foreign forces from the country and, presumably, to maintain its own political power vis-a-vis other tribes and groups. In April, 2007, it announced the assassination of its head, Harith Dhahir Khamis al-Dari, at the hands of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which seeks to establish its own power base.

The group's primary aim is to eliminate foreign forces from the country. Like other groups, its decisions and actions reflect their participation in local political power struggles.

Mahdi Army

The Shiite militia was created by cleric Muqtada Al Sadr following the 2003 U.S. invastion. Currently, it claims over 60,000 members. Sadr appealed to followers a dual call to arms against U.S. occupiers and the new Iraqi government, which was viewed as an American puppet. The Mahdi Army became a lethal force in the following years of the war. In August, 2007, clashes with Iraqi police during a pilgrimage in the Shiite city of Karbala led to 52 deaths and 300 injuries. In September, Sadr declared a 6 month ceasefire. The ceasefire led to a visible reduction in violence in Baghdad in the fall of 2007. Cooperation between the Mahdi Army and the U.S. / Coalition militaries, and the Iraqi government has been reported.

"Special Groups"

Special groups is the name being given to members of the Mahdi Army who have defied Sadr's call for a ceasefire. According to the U.S. military, these 'rogue' members are funded and armed by Iran. In October, 2007, the Multinational Force announced that it had killed 49 of these members in a Sadr City raid. The MNF-I refers to these members as criminals.

American Defense Contractors

American military contractors in Iraq are present to assist with reconstruction projects, support the military in non-combat roles and serve as security. Nevertheless, they have become embroiled in combat issues by shooting at Iraqis, despite their civilian status. On September 16, 2007, security guards working for Blackwater Worldwide killed 17 when they opened fire while escorting a convoy. Blackwater has also been accused by the Iraqi government of other unprovoked shootings. On November 12, 2007, another security firm, Dyncorp, was accused of shooting an innocent taxi driver.

Also see: Iraq Occupation's Co-Dependence on Private Security Contractors (Middle East Issues)

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)

The Kurdistan Workers Party was formed in 1978 and has been carying out a low level war with Turkey for the last generation. It is housed in the historic area of Kurdistan which includes northern Iraq (as well as Syria, Turkey and Iran). Its goal is an independent Kurdish nation-state.

There are PKK camps in northern Iraq, and there have been skirmishes between the PKK and the Turkish army inside Iraq. In November, 2007, President Bush gave Turkey the green light to invade and promised to provide intelligence to serve Turkish goals. Iraq's government has also pledged to help shut down the PKK.

Read more: Kurdistan Workers Party | Axis of Counterterrorism: Turkey, U.S. and Iraq to Apply Pressure on PKK (October 2006)

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