A former senior US military officer in Iraq argues that Shiite militias are now more capable than the Iraqi Army, because Iran is actually embedding more advisers. That's something, he adds, that the US military is failing to do.
This salvo comes as top leaders in Iraq and Iran took issue Monday with statements made over the weekend by Defense Secretary of Ashton Carter, who said that although US-trained Iraqi troops “vastly outnumbered” Islamic State radicals in Ramadi, the security forces “showed no will to fight.”
Gen. Qassim Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds forces, seemed to suggest that the US might want to examine its own glass house before casting blame for the fall of Ramadi, saying that it is the US that has shown “no will” in fighting the Islamic State.
Mr. Soleimani further appeared to suggest that Iran feels rather put-upon that it is the only country trying hard enough to vanquish the Islamic State in Iraq.
The comments have created a “Twilight Zone”-esque conversation in which former US military officers – whose troops were killed during the height of the Iraq War by the roadside bombs that Quds force advisers helped Iraqi insurgents make – say that Soleimani may have a point.
“Quite frankly, Soleimani is correct,” says retired Col. Peter Mansoor, who served as the executive officer for Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.
“The shortfalls in our strategy are becoming apparent: Shiite militias are a more capable ground force now because they have Iranian advisers embedded in them,” he adds. “The Shiite militias are commanded by committed leaders, and the weak ones are being weeded out. You can’t say the same thing about the Iraqi Army.”
Saad al-Hadithi, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, for his part endeavored to put a more positive spin on Carter’s comments, positing that perhaps the Defense secretary was working with outdated information.
“Carter was likely given incorrect information, because the situation on [the] ground is different,” Mr. al-Hadithi told the Associated Press.
The fall of Ramadi was rather due to mismanagement and poor planning by senior military commanders, he said.
In any event, he added, “We should not judge the whole army based on one incident.”
Soleimani, who during the height of the Iraq War offered training to Iraqi insurgent militias in building IEDs used to target US troops, appeared to argue that the US should be doing more in Iraq.
The US didn’t do a thing to stop the advance of the Islamic State on Ramadi, he told the daily newspaper Javan, as reported by the AP.
“Today, there is nobody in confrontation with [the Islamic State] except the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as nations who are next to Iran or supported by Iran.”
This “support” has included offering up its own advisers to Baghdad-based Shiite militias fighting against the IS in Iraq.
While Iran has denied that it has combat troops in Iraq, some Revolutionary Guard members have been found dead in the aftermath of battles against IS, according to the AP.
These Iranian-backed Shiite militias are being used by the Iraqi government alongside US-trained security forces to take back key cities. They are reportedly key to the Iraqi government’s plans to take back Ramadi, in Anbar province, as well.
But by empowering the Shiite militias, the government risks further exacerbating sectarian tensions in Anbar, which is a majority Sunni area.
If this happens, it dramatically reduces the chances for another “Anbar Awakening,” in which Sunni tribesman who had been fighting against US troops as insurgents joined forces with the American military to drive Al Qaeda in Iraq from Anbar, says Dr. Mansoor, associate professor of military history at Ohio State University.
“In that case, the chances of rekindling a tribal rebellion against IS are pretty minimal.”
For this reason, the US is going to need to send in more US military advisers and trainers, and these trainers “are going to have to accompany Iraqi forces into combat,” Mansoor says.
This is because although the US and Iran have similar short-term goals in Iraq, they should not join forces, Mansoor argues, despite both parties appearing to feel that they have put in a lot of work for little return.
“On the surface, one aspect of our strategy is in alignment – the US and Iran are both enemies of IS. But in this case, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend,” he says. “Iran’s long-term goals are not our goals.”