Leading with Honor

Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq Describes Unity of Force Against Terrorism


Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq

Despite his busy schedule of meeting with staff officers and visiting front line units, Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, Iraq’s commander of ground forces, generously provided time to talk with Unipath. The general gained wide popularity after assuming the command of Ninawa operations in 2008. Gen. Riyadh became popular after commanding the 9th Armored Division and the Rasafah operation. His star shone among the citizens of Mosul after the Umm Al-Rabi’ain operation for the discipline of his forces and their good treatment of Mosul residents. The province experienced noticeable improvements in security after a large campaign to combat corruption inside the security forces. He never hesitated to detain terrorist suspects who had previously enjoyed political and tribal cover. The people respect him and admire his professionalism and bravery. In Iraq, officers who graduate from the national military college are generally held in higher esteem than those who achieved their position through nepotism. Such officers are recognizable by their class number, their area of specialty and their comradeship with other classmates.

Unipath: Tell us about your career and education

I graduated from the Class No. 53 of military college in 1973 with a bachelor’s of military science. I re-entered the war college in 1985, Class No. 50, and earned a master’s in military science. In addition, I attended Bakr College of higher military education, Class No. 8, and authored many studies in military, social and education subjects. I learned military science at the hands of well-respected military figures who helped develop my military career. I held many positions in the military and assumed command as well as field grade roles after graduation from the war college. After 2003, I became the ground forces chief of staff and the director of planning, then was promoted to deputy commander. I moved to Baghdad operations as deputy commander before being assigned to the Rasafah operation and the 9th Armored Division.

Unipath: What milestones have you reached as commander of ground troops?

It’s a great honor to be the ground forces commander during this critical period; I am grateful our country’s leadership trusts my qualifications and professionalism. God willing, I will be the solid shield upon which Da’ish’s dreams will shatter. There is no doubt that chaos in western Iraq and Salah al-Din negatively impacted Army morale and caused fragmentation. Units in these areas require reorganization, rearmament and concentrated training. I reorganized the leadership to assure unification in command and control across the theater. I also re-established a Ninawa liberation operations command to assure force readiness, improve tactical abilities and boost morale for the mission. I personally supervise battle space planning and am commanding the campaigns to liberate Salah al-Din, Bayji, Samara, al-Mu’tasim, Al-alam and Hamrien. I’m also involved in the Anbar operation, the battle of Sajaria, Zankora, al-Baghdadi and Hadetha.

Unipath: What other steps have you taken to strengthen ground forces?

One of my important current tasks is to concentrate on increasing the force readiness and establishing committees that include skillful officers to inspect units periodically to assure morale and tactical readiness. I am closely involved in the training of the forces with new doctrine and took advantage of the experiences of an advanced military like that of the U.S. I also encourage Soldiers to continue their educations because it’s important to build military capabilities to defeat threats and use equipment effectively. One of the critical challenges is rebuilding this tactical readiness while most of the units are continuously engaged on the front lines. In addition, because of the country’s economic condition, we sometimes find it difficult to get advanced and modern weapons and spare parts. Despite these challenges, we have made great progress.

Unipath: What is your procedure for evaluating field officers?

I have no doubt that the quality of commanders is key for instilling courage in military units. Therefore, I carefully select commanders based on military evaluations. First, he must have experience in the appropriate position. Second, a commander’s reputation and integrity are paramount. There must be no suspicions about corruptions. Third, a commander must be brave and fight with his Soldiers and never desert his post. Fourth, he must be capable of leadership and possess enough charisma to build love and respect among his Soldiers. Fifth, he must be professional, maintain the bearing of an Iraqi officer and respect the oath he took when he received his rank. And finally, he must be loyal to Iraq. These are the qualifications of an ideal commander that Soldiers are proud of and will fight for to the last drop of blood.

Unipath: Iraq’s ground forces have won many victories. Do you have any special stories? 

There are plenty of heroism stories inspired by brave fighters in which they put their lives on the line for the sake of their nation and their brothers in arms. I don’t want to mention specific stories for fear of downplaying others. These stories are all dear to my heart, as if they’re my children, and I cannot favor one child over another. I know the details by heart and, God willing, one day Iraqis and the world will hear about these honorable stories.

Unipath: How have ground forces and tribes cooperated to fight Da’ish?

There are huge efforts between the military and the tribes and the volunteers from our great people. It’s not just about those who bear the arms, but all honorable Iraqis who help defeat this threat against humanity. There are many examples of Iraqi factions unifying to defeat Da’ish and liberate our cities. The role of the honorable tribes in Anbar, Salah al-Din and Mosul is a role that makes all Iraqis proud. As commander of ground forces, I salute our tribes and other Iraqi volunteers who stand alongside their brothers in the Armed Forces.

Unipath: Do your forces have regulations to protect citizens’ lives and property while clearing towns?

Indeed, because the military is part of the people, it is its duty to protect the people. This is what I always advise Soldiers before each battle. There are many districts, towns and villages severely damaged by Da’ish, and after we liberated them, we helped restore essential services and provided assistance to residents. Examples include the al-Mu’tasim district of Salah al-Din and the al-Baghdadi district of Anbar. Honestly, I can’t describe the emotions after we liberate towns from Da’ish. People are ecstatic and shed tears and tremble with joy. What we went through from horrific events and murdering and displacement is beyond what the human brain can imagine. They welcomed us with warm hugs and handshakes because they knew the military is their defender and Da’ish represents a dark force that destroyed lives and property.

Unipath: What is your advice to young officers who will be leaders of tomorrow?

I advise officers that they should first guard the honor of their ranks. Their enrollment in the Armed Forces is a huge sacrifice to defend the nation. Second, they must be loyal only to God and Iraq and reject sectarian and political entrenchments. Third, they must take care of their Soldiers when it comes to training and human aspects; they should be fathers and brothers for their Soldiers and make sure their need for equipment and food is met. Fourth, training, training and training. I can’t emphasis training enough. This will increase the capability of Soldiers in education, fitness and science to reach the level of advanced armed forces. Fifth, they must set a good example for their Soldiers in fitness, courage and military bearing. Sixth, they should engage in honorable competition among their peers and strive to reach higher levels of skill.

Unipath: Some media reports portray the Iraqi military as sectarian. How would you answer them?

Unfortunately, some in the media are attempting to seed sectarian sedition inside the Armed Forces to weaken it. However, these attempts have been exposed, and Iraqis totally reject it. These reports actually made Iraqis more eager to fight Da’ish. I would like to add that Iraqis are fighting as one nation not only in the military but in the rest of the security forces, police, national police, special operations and tribes. Sometime we see all these varied units engaged on a single front or specific battle. They know very well that they are fighting a common enemy that aims to split their unity and destroy humanity. We are drawing the road map of one nation with our blood. Our forefathers built the cradle of civilization, and today we are defending the civilized world against terrorists.