- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 24, 2015

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter accused Iraqi forces Sunday of showing “no will to fight” Islamic State guerrillas who seized a crucial city west of Baghdad, a blunt assessment that drew an immediate rebuke from Iraqi officials who think the U.S. is scapegoating their besieged nation to obscure its own failures in the region.

Mr. Carter singled out Iraqi forces after a volatile week that forced the administration to defend its strategy against the Islamist group, which seized Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, and reasserted its path toward an Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

The U.S. can provide training and equipment to Iraq’s military, the secretary insisted, but it cannot teach them how to want to fight.


SEE ALSO: Iraq, Iran push back on U.S. defense chief over Ramadi loss


“Airstrikes are effective, but neither they, nor really anything we do, can substitute for the Iraqi forces’ will to fight. They’re the ones who [need] that to beat ISIL and then keep them beaten,” he told CNN, using a common acronym for the Islamic State.

He said Iraqi forces “vastly outnumbered” the Islamic State in Ramadi yet decided to flee.



Top Iraqi officials fired back immediately, deeming the comments “unrealistic and baseless” and an attempt to “throw the blame on somebody else” after failing to adequately support the mission.

“The Iraqi army and police did have the will to fight [the] IS group in Ramadi, but these forces lack good equipment, weapons and aerial support,” said Hakim al-Zamili, an Iraqi lawmaker and head of the parliamentary defense and security committee.

American officials say Iraqi forces who fled rather than defend the city were frightened in part by a powerful wave of Islamic State suicide truck bombs, some the size of the one that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City two decades ago.

Still, the fall of Ramadi has sparked renewed questions about the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s approach in Iraq, a blend of retraining and rebuilding the Iraqi army, prodding Baghdad’s Shiite-led government to reconcile with the nation’s Sunnis, and bombing Islamic State group targets from the air without committing U.S. ground troops.

The administration this week said it would consider sending more military advisers to Iraq, although President Obama doesn’t believe the U.S.-led coalition is losing the war against the Islamic State despite the terrorist group’s significant gains in recent days.

Even as Mr. Obama and advisers defend their strategy, there is growing evidence that sectarian rifts in Iraq are hampering efforts to counter the terrorist group, especially in Sunni areas.

The extremist group’s seizure of the archeological treasure at Palmyra in Syria — near a key Syrian weapons arsenal — also has led to calls for Mr. Obama to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.

“We need more troops on the ground. We need forward air controllers,” Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, told “Face the Nation” on CBS Sunday, saying there doesn’t appear to be any strategy for defeating the Islamic State. “And anybody that says that there is, I would like to hear what it is, because it certainly isn’t apparent now.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii Democrat and an Iraq War veteran, suggested one strategy Sunday, saying the U.S. should no longer rely on the government in Baghdad and its reliance on Shiite militias to defeat the Islamic State. She said the U.S. should instead directly arm pro-American Kurdish militias in the north and traditional leaders among the Sunni tribes, as happened in the 2006-07 Anbar Awakening, which defeated al Qaeda in Iraq at the time.

“These Iraqi security forces have cut and run,” Ms. Gabbard told CNN. “They cut and ran and dropped their weapons when they were faced with their first real battle with ISIS.”

House Speaker John A. Boehner said last week that Mr. Obama should withdraw his current war request from Congress and simply “start over.” And the dispute has spilled over into the 2016 presidential campaign, where candidates have criticized the administration but at times struggled to outline a clear plan for defeating the extremists.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican weighing a bid for president, said the U.S., its Western allies and Arab partners must forge a coalition to “knock ISIS out.”
“If that includes American boots on the ground, so be it. But, at the end of the day, you just can’t let them continue to make all this progress,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”

For its part, the Syrian army is deploying troops in areas near Palmyra in apparent preparation for a counterattack to retake it from the Islamic State group, an official said.

Gov. Talal Barazi of the central province of Homs, which includes Palmyra, told The Associated Press on Sunday that Islamic State members have “committed mass massacres in the city of Palmyra” since they captured it on Wednesday. He said the extremists took many civilians, including women, to unknown destinations.

Activists in the town have said that Islamic State fighters have hunted down supporters of President Bashar Assad’s government since taking the town, killing some 280 people.

The capture of Palmyra has stoked fears that the militants might try to destroy one of the Mideast’s most spectacular archaeological sites — a well-preserved, 2,000-year-old Roman-era city on the town’s edge — as they have destroyed others in Syria and Iraq.

Still others warned the group’s ideology and brand is growing faster than its actual territory, further complicating the fight.

“This is not just a situation where, if the house catches on fire, it will burn down and then we just look at a burned-down house,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican, told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “This is now a house on fire in a densely packed neighborhood, where this is going to spread to other places. So I think we have to be very aggressive at stopping this cancer now in Iraq, in Syria [and] in Libya where it’s existing.”

⦁ The article is based in part on wire service reports from the Middle East.

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