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Iraq lacks 'will to fight' ISIS, U.S. says

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's takeover of the Iraqi city of Ramadi shows that Iraqi forces do not have the "will to fight," U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter says.

Iraqi troops left behind equipment when they abandoned Ramadi last week

Iraqi military 'lacks the will to fight' ISIS, U.S. says

8 years ago
Duration 2:51
Middle East expert Kamran Bokhari says rival factions are complicating the fight against ISIS

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's takeover of the provincial capital Ramadi is stark evidence that Iraqi forces lack the "will to fight," U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter acknowledged Sunday, a harsh assessment that raised new questions about the Obama administration's strategy to defeat the extremist group that has seized a strategically important swath of the Middle East.

Although Iraqi soldiers "vastly outnumbered" their opposition in the capital of Anbar province, they quickly withdrew last Sunday without putting up much resistance from the city in Iraq's Sunni heartland, Carter said on CNN's State of the Union, which aired on Sunday.

The Iraqis left behind large numbers of U.S.-supplied vehicles, including several tanks, now presumed to be in ISIS hands.

"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 [ISIS] and defend themselves."

The White House declined to comment on Sunday.

Iraqi lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili, the head of the parliamentary defence and security committee, called Carter's comments "unrealistic and baseless," in an interview with The Associated Press.

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

American officials say they are sending anti-tank weapons to the Iraqi military. But they also noted that Iraqi forces were not routed from Ramadi— they left of their own accord, frightened in part by a powerful wave of ISIS suicide truck bombs.

"The ISF was not driven out of Ramadi," Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week. "They drove out of Ramadi."

Syria girds for counterattack

Elsewhere, the Syrian army is deploying troops in areas near the ancient town of Palmyra in apparent preparation for a counterattack to retake it from ISIS, an official said Sunday.

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

Activists in the town have said ISIS fighters have hunted down President Bashar Assad's loyalists since taking the town, killing an estimated 280 people.

Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi condemned what he called "a massacre" in Palmyra, blaming Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey for such killings because of their support for groups trying to remove Assad from power.

Barazi, the governor, said troops are fighting with IS gunmen in the nearby Jizl area. "There are plans, but we don't know when the zero hour for a military act in Palmyra," Barazi said without elaborating.

Obama strategy questioned

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 to reconcile with the nation's Sunnis and bombing ISIS targets from the air without committing American ground combat troops.

Obama's approach is predicated on the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad granting political concessions to the country's alienated Sunnis, who are a source of personnel and money for ISIS. But there has been little visible progress on that front. Baghdad has continued to work closely with Shia-dominated militias backed by Iran, which have been accused of atrocities against Sunnis, a religious minority that once ruled Iraq.

The U.S. has sought to reach out on its own to Sunni tribes and is training some Sunni fighters, but those efforts have been limited by the small number of American troops on the ground.

Carter defended the use of U.S. airstrikes as an effective part of the fight against ISIS, but he said they are not a replacement for Iraqi ground forces willing to defend their country.

"We can participate in the defeat of [ISIS]," 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."

American intelligence officials have assessed for some time that Iraq is unlikely ever again to function as the multi-ethnic nation-state it once was, and that any future political arrangement would have to grant significant local autonomy to the three main groups—Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. But the Obama administration has continued to pursue a "one Iraq" policy, routing all assistance through Baghdad.

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