The Golden Division: Iraq’s 1st Special Operations Brigade

The Golden Division: Iraq's 1st Special Operations Brigade
ISOF members during a training

The 1st Special Operations Brigade, referred to as the Golden Division, led Iraq to victory in the siege of Mosul against the Islamic State. (ISIS) They are officially part of the larger Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) of Iraq. Trained by the United States, the Golden Division is one of the most capable operator groups in the Middle East. Once used to guard the Prime Minister, this group was moved to the very frontline to combat the Islamic State. Losing over half of their force in the battle for Mosul, (source) the Golden Division fights on for a safer Iraq.

Dark Past

In the years preceding the rise of ISIS, the CTS, and Golden Division, were in administrative and organizational disarray. The CTS and Commando Brigade were soon used by former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki for his own political purposes. David Witty, former advisor to the CTS said this:

“Back in 2009, the CTS was seen as Maliki’s praetorian guard, kind of a presidential hit squad” (Source)

David Witty

Witty further alludes to the targeting of political enemies and the CTS being used to do so. However, upon the vicious and swift insurgency and occupation by ISIS, the CTS returned to a regular operational state. (Source)

The Golden Division: Iraq's 1st Special Operations Brigade

Tactics, Training, and Procedure

The Golden Division went through intense training compared to the rest of the Iraqi army. The CTS is only about 12,00 strong compared to the over 150,000 strong Iraqi National Army, allowing rigorous standards to thrive in training. It is reported that only 18% of candidates make it into the CTS at large. (Source)

The Golden Division is known to go through a similar training procedure to U.S Special Forces. In 2005, around 1400 operators worked in tandem with US Green Berets and Jordanian Special Forces to train the GD on counterterrorism and insurgency operations. (Source) It was during this time that the Golden Division was formed into two brigades.

Procedurally, the unit operates like most other counter-terrorism units. Specialising in large-scale operations, the unit has built its own intelligence ladder, as well as its own helicopter force. On the ground, the Golden Division specialises in building-to-building clearing, VIP extraction, and intelligence gathering. (Source)


The Golden Division has ample arms to choose from, either from the various deals the Iraqi government has done to arm itself, or through captured weapons from their enemies. (Source) Here are some examples of various weaponry:
⦁ ANA M4A1 carbine
⦁ ANA M16A2/M16A4
⦁ VHS K-2 Bullpup (Source)
⦁ Korean KC-2 (Source)

The Golden Division: Iraq's 1st Special Operations Brigade
A member of the Iraqi Special Forces conducts a final air mobility operations exercise at Camp Taji, Iraq, Nov. 27, (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Rachel Diehm)

⦁ Iranian AM50  (Source)
⦁ Russian Osiris T-5000 (Source)

⦁ K14 Sniper Rifle (Source)

The Golden Division is home to many different plate carrier sets and pieces of various kit as well. Below are images of a Golden Division BAE Systems Eclipse Performance RBAV-SF, a MICH helmet (spray-painted) and an operator sporting a AN/PRC-152 Multiband Handheld Radio, respectively. (Source)

In terms of vehicles, the official Golden Division website boasts their arsenal of Lav 25s, M1152 4x4s, Various MRAPs, GMC Super Duty 4x4s and Mitsubishi Pajeros. During the battle for Mosul, it seems most of their vehicles were painted black – hailing back to their night raids on insurgents.

The Battle for Mosul

Map of the Battle of Mosul, via Twitter


Around October 20th, the Golden Division arrived northeast of Mosul in tandem with Peshmerga forces. (Source) Subsequently, they captured the town of Bartella. It is said that over 200 ISIS fighters were killed in the capture of the town by the Golden Division. (Source + Source)

Iraqi Special Forces
Golden Division commando holding up a spent drone-IED used against them by ISIS in the Battle of Mosul. (Source)

Taking the City

On the 1st of November, 2016, the Golden Division spearheaded into Mosul from the eastern side of the city that afternoon. (Source) Fierce fighting ensued for about two months within the eastern part of the city itself. By the 15th of November, the Golden Division was actively retaking the al-Akhaa, al-Bakr, and al-Hadbaa neighbourhoods in northeast Mosul. (Source) At the end of the month, 19 neighbourhoods had been reclaimed in eastern Mosul. (Source)

Throughout the rest of the battle, the Golden Division was involved in many skirmishes and firefights with ISIS forces until the conclusion of the battle and official declaration of victory on January 24th, 2017. Pockets of fighting still occurred in the western reaches of the city, but they were quickly put down by the unit.

Iraqi Special Forces
Image of a U.S Special Forces operator embedded with the Golden Division in the Battle of Mosul. (Source)

The unit saw an incredible number of casualties in the battle. The Department of Defense budget report in 2018 reported that the unit had lost about 40% of its numbers, many of that being officers. (Source) However, it seems that by late 2019 and into early 2020 the unit’s numbers were replenished by a strong recruitment drive, with numbers driven by the heroism of the unit. (Source)


The Golden Division has still been active in numerous operations since the battle of Mosul and contributed greatly to the overall defeat of ISIS. In 2020, they conducted numerous operations in the Kirkuk and Salah al-Din regions, arresting an ISIS cell they were tracking. (Source) Overall, the Golden Division is seen as a stunning success in US force-building in Iraq following the toppling of Saddam Hussein. These premier commandos were able to route ISIS from their deep-rooted positions over 6 years ago, and they remain prepared for any challenge that Iraq may face.

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