Iraqi Special Operations Forces

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Iraqi Special Operations Forces
قوات العمليات الخاصة العراقية‎
Special Operations Iraq SSI.svg
Founded26 December 2003
Country Iraq
BranchIraqi Army
TypeSpecial Forces
Size3 brigades
Part of Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (reports directly to Prime Minister of Iraq)
Nickname(s)Golden Division
Motto(s)May you sleep peacefully in your bed tonight for a mighty sword stands ready to strike fear in the hearts of those who would terrorize us! We will bring you to the law, or bring the law to you.
EngagementsAnti-guerrilla operations in Iraq as part of the Iraq War
Iraqi Civil War (2014–2017)
Abdel-Wahab al-Saadi[1]
ICTB FlagFlag of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Bureau.svg
ISOF flagSpecial Operations Iraq Flag.svg

Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) (Arabic: قوات العمليات الخاصة العراقية‎), commonly known as the Golden Division, are Iraqi special forces unit created by coalition forces after the 2003 invasion. The forces, directed by the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, consist of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Command, which has three brigades subordinate to it. The Counter Terrorism Service (Jihaz Mukafahat al-Irhab, originally translated as Counter Terrorism Bureau)[2] is funded by the Iraq Ministry of Defence.


Special operations troops in the old Iraqi army were first established when Colonel Khaleel Jassim Al-Dabbagh built the first royal special units in the name of "Queen Alia Forces" in the mid-1950s. It consisted of Sunni and Shia Arabs, as well as other components of the Iraqi population. They were mainly used on an emergency basis to carry out special missions inside of Iraq and outside when the country was at war.

After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, Iraqi forces were made redundant by the Invasion forces and because of this, the current Iraqi commando force was recruited from scratch, mostly from Shia Arabs, Kurds and few Sunni. In November 2005, after training in Jordan with Jordanian Special Forces and US Army Special Forces ("Green Berets"), the Iraqi Special Operations Force had 1,440 men trained, composed of two combat battalions, considered equal in training and combat effectiveness to an average US Army Infantry battalion, and two support battalions.[3]

In March 2008, the force consisted of a single brigade which in turn was made up of an Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Force (ICTF) battalion, three Commando battalions, a support battalion and a special reconnaissance unit.[4]

On April 18, 2010, ISOF troops, supported by US troops, carried out a night-time raid on a terrorist safe house near Tikrit. The ISOF surrounded the building and called on them to surrender, but instead the terrorists fired on them. The ISOF returned fire and assaulted the building. The ISOF killed Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leaders of ISIL, 16 others were also arrested. A US UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter supporting the mission crashed killing a US Army Ranger and wounding the aircrew.[5][6][7]

In the Battle of Mosul that began in October 2016, the special ops forces were the first division into the city of Mosul, which had been occupied by ISIL since 2014.[8] On 1 November 2016, the 1st Iraqi Special Forces Brigade fought its way into the Gogjali quarter of the city, becoming the first Iraqi unit to enter the city during the offensive.[9] On 10 July 2017, the Iraqi prime minister declared the liberation of Mosul from ISIS.[10]

During a Senate hearing in July of 2019, former United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, Mick Mulroy, stated that Iraq Security Forces with the support of the United States liberated an area the size of West Virginia from ISIS. He specifically highlighted Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) and said they rank among the region’s most capable and that they serve as a testament to the capacity-building efforts by the United States. [11][12]

Command structure[edit]

The 1st Special Operations Brigade is based in Baghdad and has the 1st, 2nd, and 5th Battalions, a brigade support battalion and a training battalion/Iraqi Special Warfare Center and School. The 1st Battalion is the renamed Iraqi 36th Commando Battalion.[13] The 1st Brigade is often referred to as the Golden Division, and previously the Golden Brigade.[14]

The 2nd Special Operations Brigade has four commando battalions [1,440 men], which were at Basra, Mosul, Diyala and Al Asad prior to the formation of the 3rd Brigade. The battalions at Basra and Mosul achieved Iraqi Operational Control (IOC) in January 2008 and conducted local operations. Regional CT Centers (RCCs), similar to Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) organizations, were to be established at all four regional commando bases to develop intelligence on terrorist networks in their region.

The 3rd Brigade was established in Basra by spring 2013, following an order by the prime minister in January 2012 that the forces expand by an additional brigade. It consisted of regional commando battalions in Basra, Diwaniya, Najaf, Maysan, Dhi Qar and Muthana provinces, a recce battalion, and a support battalion.[15]

A Special Tactics unit is also maintained.[16]

CT pilot training[edit]

In February 2008, the Iraqi Air Force, with Coalition Advisors, began night vision goggle (NVG) training as the basis for future counter-terrorism (CT) pilot training. Potential CT pilots and aircrew will undergo NVG flying introduction in order to select the best pilots for advanced CT aviation training as early as April 2008. Selected pilots will continue to log NVG training hours in order to attain a proficiency level that prepares them for Advanced Special Operations specific training as early as late summer 2008. Once fielded, this special operations aviation capability will reside in the Iraqi Air Force's 15 Squadron,[4]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Zhelwan Z. Wali. "PM Kadhimi returns prominent lieutenant to counter-terrorism forces". Rudaw. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  2. ^ Witty, David (2015). The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (PDF). Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution. p. 10. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
  3. ^ "Special Operations: Iraqi Special Operations Forces". StrategyPage. 17 November 2005. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
  4. ^ a b Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq - March 2008 Report to Congress
  5. ^ Neville, Leigh, Special Forces in the War on Terror (General Military), Osprey Publishing, 2015 ISBN 978-1-4728-0790-8, p.226
  6. ^ "2 Most Wanted Al Qaeda Leaders in Iraq Killed by U.S., Iraqi Forces" FoxNews, 19 April 2010.
  7. ^ Waleed Ibrahim. "Al Qaeda's top two leaders in Iraq have been killed, officials said Monday, in a strike the United States called a "potentially devastating blow" but whose impact analysts said may be limited". Thomson Reuters.
  8. ^ Ramsay, Stuart (20 October 2016). "Elite troops strengthen battle for Mosul". Sky News. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  9. ^ "Iraqi Army enters Mosul: Live updates day 16".
  10. ^ Reuters Editorial. "Iraqi PM declares victory over Islamic State in Mosul". Reuters. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ DJ Elliott, Iraqi Counter Terrorist Bureau (page 8, Iraqi Security Forces Order of Battle), Montrose Toast, information cut-off date 30 November 2009, via Iraqi Order of Battle Archived 2012-06-30 at
  14. ^ Witty, David (2015). The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (PDF). Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution. p. 12. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
  15. ^ Witty, David (2015). The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (PDF). Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution. p. 25. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
  16. ^ "DVIDS - Images - Iraqi Special Operations Special Tactics Unit [Image 3 of 6]". Retrieved 1 January 2018.