The UK Guardian reports that Major General Tim Cross, the top British officer overseeing postwar Iraq, agrees with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s grim diagnosis of the Iraqi army following their disastrous performance in Ramadi.
On Sunday, Carter said the Iraqis lacked the will to fight. Cross said he found the U.S. Defense Secretary’s choice of words interesting, “because we use that expression in the British army, and our argument is that it’s about a moral cohesion in your army. It’s about the motivation to achieve what it is you’re setting out to achieve and it’s about effective leadership.”
“There’s no cohesion, there’s no strong leadership,” Cross continued. “They’re really struggling and I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
It’s great to see top American and British commanders on the same page about this, which makes it outrageous that the Obama Administration has been blowing so much smoke about the new and improved Iraqi Army for the past year.
That is all we have been hearing from Obama and his mouthpieces, month after month. The President’s entire “kinetic military action” strategy was based on using an extremely light footprint of American trainers and advisers, plus a generous supply of top-shelf American military hardware, to build the Iraqi military into a force that would first halt the advance of ISIS, then eject them from their stronghold in Mosul and beat them back across the Syrian border.
So dedicated to this strategy was the White House that it rebuffed desperate pleas from the demonstrably effective Kurdish military, and the tribal fighters of Anbar province, for direct military assistance. All weapons had to go through Baghdad, the Kurds and tribesmen were told. The government in Baghdad preferred to keep the bulk of the American hardware for its own forces, and they promptly left much of it lying on the battlefield when they retreated from an inferior ISIS force at Ramadi. There must be battle-tested Kurdish commanders screaming in frustration right now.
In another burst of tough talk that sounds very different from what the Obama White House has been peddling, Maj. Gen. Cross suggested it might take a generation to build an Iraqi military capable of defeating ISIS.
“We don’t like it from a moral point of view in the ethical sense, but at the heart of ISIS is a very strong cohesion, good strong leadership and a determination to succeed,” Cross conceded. “And that’s why they’re doing so well. They’ve won the psychological battle.”
Cross noted he could not see any way to beat the Islamic State without putting British, and presumably American, boots on the ground, although even that wouldn’t be enough if the Iraqis couldn’t get their act together. “Collectively I do think we need to sit down and begin to try and tease out this issue and decide how we’re going to take it forward and, yes, putting in more people like forward air controllers, maybe some attack helicopters, maybe some more special forces will help,” he said. “But that will not solve the will power issue, the ability of the Iraqi military to hold the Sunni and Shia communities together, to fight coherently and to begin to seriously push back ISIS.”
For their part, the Iraqis are blaming the whole mess on the United States. The Guardian quotes Hakim al-Zamili, head of the Iraqi parliament’s defense committee, calling Defense Secretary Carter’s comments “unrealistic and baseless,” while claiming the U.S. has not provided “good equipment, weapons, and aerial support” to Iraqi troops.
For good measure, Zamili said Carter, and by extension his boss, were trying to “throw the blame on somebody else” for the disaster in Ramadi.
The Iraqi parliamentarian might have a point about the air support. The New York Times notes that contrary to official White House rhetoric about a hellacious bombing campaign rocking ISIS on its heels across Iraq, the bombing has actually been very light compared to previous U.S. interventions, in part due to concerns about collateral damage to civilians.
Zamili’s complaint about U.S. air power is echoed in the NYT article by Iraqi Major Muhammed al-Dulaimi, who claimed “we lost large territories in Anbar because of the inefficiency of the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.”
An American A-10 pilot agreed via email: “We have not taken the fight to these guys. We haven’t targeted their centers of gravity in Raqqa. All the roads between Syria and Iraq are still intact, with trucks flowing freely.”
The situation is unlikely to improve any time soon, as ISIS appears well aware of American rules of engagement, and is deliberately keeping its fighters behind civilian meat shields to reduce the effectiveness of American air power. If the newly-unveiled conventional wisdom about the ineffectiveness of Iraqi troops is accurate, it seems unlikely U.S. pilots will be able to provide a crutch big enough to help the Iraqis turn the tide against ISIS.
And that’s where Iran comes in. The Guardian notes President Obama’s beloved Partners-in-Peace dismissed Administration spin about the fall of Ramadi by accusing the U.S. of having “no will” to halt the Islamic State’s advance, and said America didn’t do a “damn thing” to prevent the capture of the Iraqi city. The Iranians say only they can meet ISIS in battle and prevail.
If they make good on that promise, we’re about to watch Obama help Iran eject the United States from the Middle East, sending a clear message that support from the Great Satan is worth far less than the protection of a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran.