Thursday 23 November 2017

Allies' bickering turns to insults over Ramadi's fall to jihadists

Haider al-Abadi
Haider al-Abadi

Louisa Loveluck in Cairo

The uneasy international alliance against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) descended into acrimony yesterday as allies traded accusations that a lack of will to fight led to the fall of Ramadi.

Iraqi and Iranian officials reacted angrily to remarks from Ash Carter, the US defence secretary, that Baghdad's troops had been beaten by a far smaller force because they lacked motivation.

Tehran responded by saying that the United States had not done "a damn thing" to prevent the alliance's worst defeat in its year-long battle against Isil.

A British former general echoed Mr Carter's comments, saying that rebuilding Iraq's army could take a generation and that sending more international troops to help it fight the jihadists would not solve its "will power" problem.

Maj Gen Tim Cross said Iraq's military was blighted by poor leadership and a lack of cohesion.

The former commander, who was Britain's most senior officer in planning for the 2003 Iraq invasion, said: "Churchill said back at the beginning of the 20th century, you can destroy an army very quickly, and effectively we did that when we disbanded the Iraqi military back in 2003. It can take a generation to build a strong, capable military that is going to win this sort of campaign."

Mr Carter said that the fall of Ramadi, 100km west of Baghdad, showed that "we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight Isil and defend themselves".

Ramadi's defence melted away as Isil advanced earlier this month. Hundreds of policemen were killed after Iraqi troops withdrew, leaving weapons and vehicles in their wake. The US responded with limited airstrikes on the city's fringes. Months of airstrikes and the deployment of advisers to reform and train the security forces have failed to keep up with Isil's aggressive tactics.

Iraqi leaders expressed disbelief at the accusations. A military commander in Anbar described Mr Carter's comments as "a provocation to the Iraqi army and Iraqi people designed to make people lose their trust in the army".

Haider al-Abadi, Iraq's prime minister, pledged his troops would soon win back Ramadi from the militants.

Gen Qassem Soleimani, the head of an elite unit in Iran's Revolutionary Guard, said the US did not do "a damn thing" to stop Isil seizing Ramadi.

Although Washington and Tehran both support the Iraqi government in its attempts to push back the extremists, who control a third of the country, they remain uneasy bedfellows. Disagreements over strategy have prolonged and complicated the fight for key cities.

Reluctant to be drawn into a combat role, the American approach to Iraq's latest conflict has involved airstrikes as part of an international coalition, as well as equipping and training security forces.

Mr Abadi hit back at American criticism, saying that although the Isil onslaught had initially terrified his forces, they would retake Ramadi "in days".

He said: "It makes my heart bleed because we lost Ramadi, but I can assure you we can bring it back soon."

To do so, the army will rely on support from Iran-backed Shia militias, an eventuality the US had tried to avoid in the weeks before Ramadi fell, and local Sunni tribes, which have already suffered very heavy losses.

About 40,000 civilians have fled the city. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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