Iraq prime minister vows to retake Ramadi 'within days'
Iraq and the United States continued to spar over Iraqi forces' willingness to confront Islamic State militants, while Iran weighed in with sharp criticism of the US effort in the fight.
Iraq's prime minister boldly promised Iraqi forces would recapture Ramadi "within days," less than a day after new US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called out Iraq's forces for having "no will to fight."
Speaking in an interview with BBC News, Prime Minister Haider Abadi insisted that the fall of Ramadi, which saw Iraqi troops fleeing the city in the face of inferior numbers of the self-described Islamic State, was only "a tactical battle" and not a sign that IS is winning.
"I cannot give numbers, but at this very moment, since four days ago, five days ago when we lost Ramadi, we advanced quite greatly. I think, we have cut many kilometers, we have returned it back to us.... It will be within days, I can assure you," Mr. Abadi said.
Abadi's comments come a day after Mr. Carter told CNN that "the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight" in Ramadi, an unusually public criticism of Iraq.
"They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight, they withdrew from the site, and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight [IS] and defend themselves," Carter said.
"We can give them training, we can give them equipment – we obviously can't give them the will to fight," Carter added. "But if we give them training, we give them equipment, and give them support, and give them some time, I hope they will develop the will to fight, because only if they fight can [IS] remain defeated."
But Iran countered the US criticism on Monday, reports the Associated Press, arguing that it was in fact the United States that was a problem, and claiming that Iran and its allies were key to helping Iraq push back IS.
In Iran, the daily newspaper Javan, which is seen as close to the Revolutionary Guard, quoted Soleimani as saying the U.S. didn’t do a “damn thing” to stop the extremists’ advance on Ramadi.
“Does it mean anything else than being an accomplice in the plot?” he reportedly asked, later saying the U.S. showed “no will” in fighting the Islamic State group.
“Today, there is nobody in confrontation with (the Islamic State group) except the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as nations who are next to Iran or supported by Iran,” he said.
The public sniping between the US and Iraq comes amid major gains by IS, both in Ramadi and in the key Syrian crossroads of Palmyra, which fell on Thursday. Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Christian Science Monitor that IS's capture of Palmyra "brings IS to a true geographic crossroads in the east."
Palmyra straddles a strategic road network that could eventually allow IS to secure new supply lines all the way from its strongholds in Iraq to southern Syria, while cutting the regime's supply line to Deir Ezzor, where it is holding on to its last military garrison. ...
“It represents a pretty significant military change and it could be another one of those so-called turning points in the war,” says Mr. White. “We have to see how the regime responds. If it decides to consolidate and pull back to areas that are of critical importance to them, then [the regime] can continue. If IS continues its offensive towards the West,” he notes, “there is an increasing likelihood that they will run into Hezbollah.”
Reports from local observers within Palmyra and from Syria's state television say that a few hundred civilians have been killed in the town's occupation, according to euronews. The Syrian government has also begun airstrikes against IS forces in Palmyra, Reuters reports, carrying out at least 15 attacks on buildings within the town.