TEL AVIV- The challenge that Islamic State fighters in Iraq pose to US-trained Iraqi troops does not bode well for the future of Iraq, an Arab security official told Breitbart Jerusalem.
The official said Iran-backed militias have been scoring major victories in efforts to retake neighborhoods surrounding Fallujah, and warned that Iran is gaining a foothold in Iraq as a result.
Over the last week, Iraqi military units and Iranian-sponsored Shi’ite militias have been engaged in an offensive aimed at expelling the militants from areas surrounding Fallijah to use as staging ground to retake the city, located about 40 miles west of Baghdad. The official said that 80,000 fighters have been involved in battle for five days.
On Monday, Iraqi counterterrorism troops entered the southern part of Fallujah backed up by U.S.-led airstrikes and began their offensive to retake the city. IS launched a fierce counterattack in southern Fallujah that took the Iraqi army at least four hours to repeal.
The Arab security official said that Fallujah will likely be liberated, but the first five days of the fighting to regain surrounding neighborhoods led to the “inevitable conclusion that the US-trained troops are very weak despite their advanced weaponry. The fact that IS has launched counteroffensives is unbelievable taking into account that tens of thousands of soldiers, accompanied by tens of thousands of Iran-supported Shi’ite militiamen, have been fighting. We have unconfirmed reports that the number of fighters against IS has reached 150,000.”
Another conclusion, he said, was that “the militia commanders are subordinated to Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Al Quds Brigades in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and have proved a lot more effective than the Iraqi army. In fact, they lay down the battle tactics for the army. Beyond the disciplinary impact, the diplomatic fallout is immense – if things continue this way, the liberation of the city may be seen first and foremost as an Iranian achievement, not an Iraqi-American one.”
Such a victory would reinforce Iran’s hold in Iraq “and will turn the Iran-backed Shi’ite militias into a central player in Iraq in a similar way to the immensely successful (in Iran’s view) Lebanese model, with Hezbollah.”
According to intelligence reports, there are 700-1500 IS fighters in Fallujah, “and this raises the same questions that were raised when Ramadi, Tikrit, Mosul, and Faluja itself were captured by IS. Why is the Iraqi army, in which billions of American dollars were invested, so constantly inept and cannot clinch significant victories without the help of the Iranian militias?”
The official claims that the corruption that has taken over the Iraqi establishment and trickled down to the army – to which the US turned a blind eye – is at the heart of the army’s weakness. Also, the creation of a warlord system within the Iraqi army, similar to Afghanistan, “has contributed to the army’s ineptitude. This way, Iran is able to recruit to its backed militias the better soldiers and officers at the expense of the state army.”
On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported on the campaign to take over Fallujah, which includes urban warfare fighting in booby-trapped streets. An estimated 50,000 civilians are reportedly trapped in the city.
Reported the Journal:
Iraqi special forces battling their way into Fallujah faced fierce counterattacks by Islamic State on Tuesday, while commanders of the operation warned that heavily booby-trapped streets in and around the city were hindering the advance.
…The counterattacks took place on Fallujah’s southern edge, Nuaimiya, where counterterrorism forces had driven Monday following a weeklong offensive to surround the city. The U.S.-trained counterterrorism units repelled the two attacks, which included suicide bombers and snipers, said Lt. Gen. Abdelwahab al-Saadi, commander of the operation.
The Journal noted efforts to free the city IS and other jihadists are complicated due to the large numbers of civilians in the city as well as reports that terrorists have been using civilians as human shields.
The AP further reported on the battle to take Fallujah:
Iraqi forces repelled the four-hour counterattack a day after entering the southern part of Fallujah with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes. The dawn attack unfolded in the Nuaimiya area, most of which was captured by Iraqi troops on Monday, two special forces officers told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
IS militants used tunnels and snipers, and targeted Iraqi forces with six explosives-laden cars that were destroyed before they reached their targets, the officers said. Iraqi forces suffered casualties, but no details were given.
The clashes subsided by Tuesday afternoon, but the officers said progress was slowed by roadside bombs the militants left behind. The troops also paused to destroy tunnels in the area.