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May 26, 2015

Whose Fault Is It The Iraqis Won't Fight For Their Own Country?

The fall of Ramadi last week was another reminder that Iraqi security forces don't have the stomach to fight ISIS.

Iraqi security forces fled Ramadi without putting up a fight, despite holding as much as a 10-to-1 advantage over Islamic State militants, according to two senior U.S. defense officials.


In the days leading up to its fall, a combination of spectacular car bomb attacks, the ambush of an Iraq army patrol and marginal weather spooked the Iraqi forces. The trigger may have been a minor sandstorm that prompted Iraqi commanders to believe that U.S. warplanes would not be able to bomb Islamic State targets.

A phone call to U.S. officials would have cleared up that misunderstanding, one of the officials said.

Iraqi commandos, soldiers and police officers panicked when they thought they wouldn't be protected by U.S. warplanes, one official said, and abandoned their posts. They left behind U.S.-supplied vehicles and weapons, which are now in the hands of the militants.

Even if they didn't get air support, which they did, how much of it do you need when you have a 10-1 advantage against an attacking force that doesn't have any air assets in the fight?

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter had enough of this crap and called out the Iraqis over the weekend.

: What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not out numbered but 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 ISIL and defend themselves.

Now, we can give them training, we can give them equipment; we obviously can't give them the will to fight. 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 ISIL remain defeated.

Aside from the absurd notion that ISIL/ISIS is in any way "defeated", Carter is right. We've spent over a decade and billions of dollars providing training and advanced weapons to our Iraqi "allies" and this is the product we've managed to produce.

There are some groups willing to fight...the Iranian backed Shia militias. Unfortunately setting them loose in the Sunni regions creates as many, if not more, problems than it solves.

Writing before Carter's remarks Max Boot seems pretty sure he knows who is responsible for the Iraqis' failure...America.

Imagine that a vicious street gang were terrorizing a neighborhood of Detroit or South Central Los Angeles. Would we blame the residents for not being willing to confront the gang on their own and thereby conclude that the residents were not worth saving? Of course not. Because we would recognize that a small number of heavily armed toughs can terrorize a neighborhood—and if sufficiently vicious they can even cow the local police force. That doesn’t mean that the residents want to live under the domination of the street gang, any more than Iraqis today want to live under the domination of ISIS or the Quds Force. The problem is that they don’t feel strong enough at the moment to rise up against those terrorist organizations.

This is nonsense.

Iraq isn't a scared resident living in fear of the gang-bangers hanging out on the corner. Again, it's a country with a large military that has been lavishly equipped and trained by the United States of America. To accept this argument you have to accept the notion that the US will be responsible for Iraqi security forever. After all, police don't come in, sweep the neighborhood of bad guys and then tell the previously scared residents they are now in charge of keeping the area safe.

The Iraqis may not want to live under ISIS but to date they haven't shown a willingness to use the tools they have to avoid that outcome, regardless of how much support we give them.

Sure, they might be willing to fight to the last American but that's not really a selling point for a policy in the US.

More Boot.

The reason that today we consistently see small ISIS formations scattering much larger Iraqi units is that the Iraqi units have been undermined from within by corruption and sectarianism. Iraqi soldiers today are badly trained, badly led, badly supplied, badly motivated. But that’s not the fault of rank and file troops. The blame goes to the Shite sectarians who have dominated Baghdad since the American pullout in 2011.

Again, nonsense.

It was former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who oversaw the hollowing out of the Iraqi military. But let's not pretend he was a creature of Obama. Far from it. He was the man the Bush administration picked for the job.

Frustrated, [American Ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay] Khalilzad turned to the C.I.A. analyst assigned to his office, a fluent Arabic speaker whose job was to know Iraq’s leaders. “Can it be that, in this country of thirty million people, the choice of Prime Minister is either Jaafari, who is incompetent, or Ali Adeeb, who is Iranian? Isn’t there anyone else?”

“I have a name for you,” the C.I.A. officer said. “Maliki.”


That night, during a long dinner at the American Embassy, Khalilzad asked Maliki if he’d considered becoming Prime Minister. Khalilzad recalled, laughing, that Maliki gave a startled jump. But, as the two men talked, Maliki said that he could indeed secure the votes, and so, as the dinner broke up, well past midnight, Khalilzad told an aide to get the White House on the phone. “We let Washington know there was a change of plans,” Khalilzad said. Sunni and Kurdish politicians endorsed his candidacy. Within three months, Maliki had become Iraq’s Prime Minister.

So is the argument that we should have stayed longer to make sure our guy did our bidding? I thought one of the goals of the Operation Iraqi Freedom was to ensure the Iraqis themselves ran their country. Well, Malaki won several terms following elections. Now it turns out our goal was to serve as puppet masters?

Don't hurt yourselves moving those goalposts.

We can't rightly take credit for helping the Iraqis throw off a brutal dictator so they can have the freedom to run their own country and then blame ourselves when they make choices we don't like.

I really hate the focus on "knowing what we know now, would you still have supported the invasion?" idiocy.

The better question is along the lines of, "knowing what we know now about the political and sectarian issues of a country like Iraq, do you think preemptive regime change followed by a lengthy US occupation and rebuilding effort is a viable policy option moving forward?"

As someone who supported the Iraq invasion/liberation and is disappointed our assumptions were wrong, I'm more interested in knowing what candidates (who other than Hillary Clinton) who had nothing to do with the Iraq decision, think about this policy moving forward. To say, Syria.

We can also apply this to the Libya model of intervention, which isn't working out so well either. Someone should ask Hillary about that one.

Regardless of what you think of what happened in Iraq in 2011, if we live in Boot's fantasy land where we ignore the nature of the people we are dealing with and simply blame America (which voted for Obama twice in part on his dealing with Iraq), we will make more costly mistakes in the future.

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posted by DrewM. at 11:14 AM

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