The takeover of Ramadi by "Islamic State" militants showed that Iraqi soldiers lacked the "will to fight," the United States defense chief has said. The retreating soldiers left behind US-supplied military gear.
Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" television show, which went to air Sunday, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (pictured) questioned the morale of the Iraqi troops who lost control of Ramadi - a strategic city and capital of Anbar province - a week ago.
"What apparently happened was the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered," Carter said. "In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight, they withdrew from the site," he told CNN.
"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 and defend themselves," Carter added, using an alternative acronym for the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" ("IS") group which has seized a vast area spanning Syria and Iraq over the past year and proclaimed a "caliphate." During the past week, IS took over two cities at opposite ends of its captured terriroty – Ramadi in the east and the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria to the west.
Current US strategy against IS has involved retraining and rebuilding Iraq's army, urging the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad to reconcile with Iraqi Sunnis and bombing Islamic State targets from the air, measures Carter said the country would continue for the time being, while acknowledging the strategy could change and that efforts to train and equip Iraqi soldiers were of little use if the troops themselves lacked morale.
"Air strikes are effective, but neither they nor anything we can do can subsitiute for the Iraqi's will to fight. They're the ones who have to beat ISIL and then keep them beat," Carter said, in the strongest remarks made by a senior US official since Ramadi's fall.
However, Iraqi lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili, who heads the parliamentary defense and security committee, rebuffed Carter's comments in an interview with the Associated Press, calling them "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, adding "the US officials should provide Iraq with advanced weapons as soon as possible instead of making such statements."
On Saturday, forces loyal to the Iraqi government reported taking back territory from IS fighters east of Ramadi in a counter-offensive.
"Today we regained control over Husaiba and are laying plans to make more advances to push back Daesh fighters further," local tribal leader Amir al-Fahdawi said, using an Arabic acronym to refer to IS. "The morale of the fighters is high after the arrival of reinforcements and loads of ammunition."
When Iraqi forces fled Ramadi they left behind US-supplied weapons and military equipment including tanks, artillery pieces and armored personnel carriers - evoking memories of when Iraqi security forces collapsed as IS captured large parts of the country's north almost a year ago.
Reports have emerged of mass executions in Palmyra and beheadings in Deir al-Zour by the al Qaeda splinter group during the past few days.
se/bw (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)