- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2015

As tensions mount between the Obama administration and Baghdad over the quality of Iraqi security forces, Vice President Joseph R. Biden tried to reassure Iraq’s prime minister Monday that the U.S. stands behind the Iraqi government in its battle with the Islamic State.

The White House said Mr. Biden spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi “to reaffirm U.S. support for the Iraqi government’s fight against” the Islamic State.

“The vice president recognized the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces over the past 18 months in Ramadi and elsewhere,” the White House said.

The phone conversation came a day after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter blamed the weak state of Iraq’s military as one major reason for the fall of Ramadi last week

“The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” Mr. Carter said Sunday. “They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight, they withdrew from the site, and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight [the Islamic State] and defend themselves.”

A spokesman for Mr. Abadi, Saad al-Hadithi, said Monday that his government was surprised by Mr. Carter’s comments.

Carter was likely given incorrect information because the situation on ground is different,” Mr. al-Hadithi told The Associated Press. “We should not judge the whole army based on one incident.”

Mr. al-Hadithi said the Iraqi government believes the fall of Ramadi was due to mismanagement and poor planning by some senior military commanders in charge. He did not elaborate, nor has any action been taken against those commanders.

Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds forces in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, offered his own assessment of American forces.

In Iran, the daily newspaper Javan, which is seen as close to the Revolutionary Guard, quoted Gen. Soleimani as saying the U.S. didn’t do a “damn thing” to stop the extremists’ advance on Ramadi.

“Does it mean anything else than being an accomplice in the plot?” he reportedly asked, later saying the U.S. showed “no will” in fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS.

Gen. Soleimani said Iran and its allies are the only forces that can deal with the threat.

“Today, there is nobody in confrontation with [the Islamic State] except the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as nations who are next to Iran or supported by Iran,” he said.

The war of words over the loss of Ramadi, amid other gains by the Islamic State group in recent days, lay bare the fissures among countries that have become allies of convenience against the militants. And as Iraqi troops continue to flee their advance, governments across the world are questioning whether relying on Iraqi troops and militiamen on the ground alone will be enough to stop them.

The White House said Mr. Biden “welcomed” a decision by Iraq’s Council of Ministers last week to mobilize additional troops and prepare for counter-attack operations against the Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIL.

“The vice president pledged full U.S. support in these and other Iraqi efforts to liberate territory from ISIL, including the expedited provision of U.S. training and equipment to address the threat posed by ISIL’s use of truck bombs,” the White House said.

U.S. officials, including Mr.Carter, have said Iraqi forces fled the Islamic State advance on Ramadi without fighting back, leaving behind weapons and vehicles for the extremists.

Mr. Obama also was critical of Iraq’s effort last week, saying the loss of Ramadi was “indicative that the training of Iraqi Security Forces, the fortifications, the command-and-control systems are not happening fast enough in Anbar, in the Sunni parts of the country.”

“There’s no doubt that in the Sunni areas, we’re going to have to ramp up not just training, but also commitment, and we’d better get Sunni tribes more activated than they currently have been,” Mr. Obama said. “So it is a source of concern.”

So far, the American approach to the conflict has been to launch airstrikes as part of an international coalition it leads, as well as equipping and training Iraqi forces.

Iran has offered advisers, including Gen. Soleimani, to direct Shiite militias fighting against the extremists. Iran has said it does not have combat troops fighting in Iraq, though some Revolutionary Guard members have been killed there.

Baghdad has said military preparations are underway to launch a large-scale counteroffensive in Anbar province, home to Ramadi, involving Iranian-backed Shiite militias. However, that possibility has sparked fears of potential sectarian violence in the Sunni province, long the scene of protests and criticism against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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