The congratulatory cable sent by Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, on the 97th anniversary of the establishment of the Iraqi Army, indicates a radical shift in the stances of various officials, blocs, parties and forces regarding the military.
The Iraqi army is the oldest and most powerful in the region and it was classified as the fourth most powerful military in the world.
Although the army's situation began to deteriorate after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the subsequent repercussions resulted in the destruction of the infrastructure of this institution, the US 2003 invasion finished off what remained of its status. US administrator Paul Bremer's decision to disband the army ended any hope of keeping it united.
In an attempt to rebuild the army, the government of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi established in 2004 the so-called "National Guard". However, the issue of sectarian and ethnic quotas created problems for the military and it paid the price after ISIS occupied four Iraqi provinces in 2014.
Former army officer, Sarmad Abbas told Asharq Al-Awsat that "all indications showed that there is a will to avenge this army by destroying the morale of its members, whether they are commanders, officers or soldiers. Many political forces view the Iraqi army as the military of the former regime or Saddam's army. "
Although the army's image changed to a large extent, discrimination still exists even in laws and privileges enjoyed among those who belonged to the former army, and even some who now belong to the current one, and those who do not, according to Abbas.
During ISIS' occupation of Nineveh, Salah al-Din and Anbar and large parts of Diyala province, the Iraqi army was seen by residents of Sunni-majority areas as the army of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. This was based on financial and administrative corruption, in addition to sectarian discrimination that made many of the residents seek an alternative, which paved the way for ISIS.
Yet, the battles fought by the army since 2015 and until it defeated ISIS in late 2017 led to a significant change in the perception of the army among Iraqis.
Security expert Fadhil Abu Ragheef believes that despite all that's been said, the military is a long-established institution that has proven its worth in all the battles it fought and even in matters of public service.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said that Iraqi citizens now view the army differently, not only after it defeated ISIS, but even when the Salah al-Din flood occurred two years ago. The army played the most important role in protecting civilians and transporting them to safe areas, he explained.
Abadi on Saturday reaffirmed his government's commitment to establishing a national army to protect the integrity of Iraq and the unity of its people.
"We confirm our continuation to build a strong national army that defends Iraq's land and its citizens without exception and preserves the sovereignty of the state," he said in a statement.
"We are building an army that belongs to a single and unified Iraq. It does not represent a certain party or a sect. Our heroic army fought a fierce war to save its people and citizens and liberate its land from terrorism," the statement concluded.