US official: Iraq forces lack will to fight

Defence secretary critical of US bid to help Iraq fight Islamic State

Islamic State’s takeover of Ramadi is stark evidence that Iraqi forces lack the “will to fight”, US defence secretary Ash Carter has said.

It is the harshest assessment yet from a high-ranking Obama administration official of the US effort to bolster Iraqi forces to retake their territory from extremist militants.

Iraqi soldiers “vastly outnumbered” their opposition in the capital of Anbar province but quickly withdrew from the city in Iraq’s Sunni heartland, Carter told CNN yesterday.

The Iraqis left behind large numbers of US-supplied vehicles, including several tanks.

“What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” Carter said.

“They were not outnumbered; in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. That says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL [ie, Islamic State] and defend themselves.”

Hakim al-Zamili, the head of Iraq’s parliamentary defence and security committee, called Carter’s comments “unrealistic and baseless”.

“The Iraqi army and police did have the will to fight IS group in Ramadi, but these forces lack good equipment, weapons, and aerial support,” he said. “The US officials should provide Iraq with advanced weapons as soon as possible instead of making such statements.”

The fall of Ramadi last week has sparked questions about the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s approach in Iraq, a blend of retraining and rebuilding the Iraqi army, prodding the Shi’ite-dominated government in Baghdad to reconcile with the nation’s Sunnis, and bombing IS targets from the air without committing US ground combat troops.

Carter defended the use of US air strikes as an effective part of the fight against IS, but he said they are not a replacement for Iraqi ground forces willing to defend their country.

“We can participate in the defeat of ISIL,” he said. “But we can’t make Iraq... a decent place for people to live — we can’t sustain the victory, only the Iraqis can do that and, in particular in this case, the Sunni tribes to the west.”

Over the past year defeated Iraqi security forces have repeatedly left US-supplied military equipment on the battlefield, which the US has targeted in subsequent air strikes against IS forces. The Pentagon last week estimated that when Iraqi troops abandoned Ramadi, they left behind a half-dozen tanks, a similar number of artillery pieces, a larger number of armoured personnel carriers, and about 100 wheeled vehicles like Humvees.

Carter did not discuss any new US tactics in the fight against Islamic State.

A former head of the British army called on the government to “think the previously unthinkable” and consider sending ground troops to combat IS in Syria and Iraq.

Richard Dannatt, the former chief of the general staff, said he felt air strikes had “failed” to stop the advance of the extremist organisation and urged parliament to debate deploying up to 5,000 infantry soldiers.

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