Sunday, June 22, 2014

Officials and Military Experts: Iraq Forces Can't Defeat #ISIS Jihadists

For the left's antiwar hordes, these reports should be the "uh oh" moment. Because as much as the administration wants to stay out, pressure to avoid an ISIS takeover of Baghdad, and revulsion at the unequivocal waste of U.S. sacrifice in the country, is going to hurt the Democrats in public opinion. The 300 "advisers" could be just the beginning of a renewed robust role for the U.S. in Iraq. It is, in a sense, like a quagmire, and Obama has a tough choice even as he outwardly sticks to his meme that we won the war and his decision to wind it down was a good one.

At the Wall Street Journal, "Iraq Army's Ability to Fight Raises Worries: U.S. Says Decline of Local Forces Leaves Country Vulnerable to Sunni Insurgents, Who Gained Key Border Crossings on Sunday":
The Iraq army's quick collapse against Sunni insurgents in Mosul this month surprised the U.S. military, which spent about $25 billion to train and supply the army over nearly a decade of occupation until 2011.

But it didn't surprise Mosul's residents, who say they witnessed the Iraqi army's decay through corruption, sectarianism and incompetence.  Before the conquest, the city's mostly Sunni residents said they lived under a Shiite-dominant military regime that behaved like an occupying army—extorting protection money from local businesses and motorists and detaining those who refused, the residents said.

"It was as if everyone was cooperating to eradicate the people of Mosul," said Mahmoud Attaie, a dentist who lived in the city until the Islamist State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, arrived this month.

Now, as ISIS seems intent on attacking Baghdad and important Shiite pilgrimage cities south of Iraq's capital, U.S. and Iraqi military leaders say they worry Iraqi forces will once again collapse.  The U.S. discovered significant problems as it stepped up its assessment of Iraq's security forces in recent months, American officials said. They say they noted that more competent Sunni military tacticians in units in the north had been forced out by the Shiite-dominated government.

Across the military U.S. military personnel found the Iraqis were failing to properly maintain equipment. Training standards have declined sharply from 2011, when U.S. military forces advised Iraqi units.

The ISIS insurgents "are not strong, but the military is very weak," said Atheel Al Nujaifi, the governor of Nineveh province who said he fled its capital Mosul in the middle of the night on June 10 before the city fell. "There was no responsible leadership, there was no planning, there was no correct utilization for the military tools."

"The leaders and the soldiers have no military experience and have no convictions," he added.  Instead, the Iraqi command that ran Mosul by direct order of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled the city like a fief, Mr. Nujaifi and other residents said.

"They are not an army, they just take money. No more," said a local Sunni militant in Mosul who said he fought alongside ISIS. "They don't care about orders, weapons or vehicles. They are paid just to get money."

Given how Iraqi soldiers departed without staging any defense of Mosul, the city's residents, as well as Iraqi and U.S. officials, speculate that former operations commander Mahdi Al Gharawi and his lieutenants sold the city to the conquering Islamist militants.

Spokesmen for the military, which has relieved Mr. Gharawi of his command, and for Mr. Maliki didn't respond to requests for comment.

Still, U.S. and Iraqi officials acknowledge that Iraqi soldiers may also have fled under the belief that Mosul's residents would have risen up against them. That scenario, these people say, complicates any possibility of Iraqi security forces—or the Shiite militias that are forming in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities to fight ISIS's Sunni militants—from retaking Mosul and nearby towns.

"If the Shiite militias and the military come to Mosul, all the people of Mosul will fight them," Mr. Nujaifi said. "The people are afraid of the militias and the army now more than they were afraid of ISIS."

The threat to Baghdad grew on Sunday as ISIS insurgents swept through towns in western Iraq and overran the Turaibil border outpost with Jordan and the al-Walid crossing with Syria, a day after they took the Syrian border crossing of al Qaim, security officials said. They faced little resistance from Iraqi national security soldiers, many of whom left their posts.

The assaults bolstered ISIS's cross-border supply lines with Syria and could serve the group's goal of carving out an Islamic state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.

Military spokesman Gen. Qassim Atta disputed reports that Iraqi forces had abandoned their positions on the Iraq's western border, saying that the army tactically pulled out of the area to regroup and attack insurgents from the east.

This year, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the main U.S. foreign military espionage agency, noted the Iraqi security forces had been unable to stop rising violence or suppress militant activity in Iraq's Sunni-dominated areas.

"Iraqi military and police forces lack cohesion, are undermanned, and are poorly trained, equipped, and supplied," Gen. Flynn said in February. "This leaves them vulnerable to terrorist attack, infiltration and corruption."

The Pentagon said it has seen apparent improvements in the performance of the Iraqi military in recent days of fighting against Sunni militants, but many officials still said they harbor concerns over whether the forces can defend the capital.

Units stationed near Baghdad, U.S. defense officials said, are better trained and possess more motivation to fight and defend the capital from ISIS's Sunni militants than forces positioned in Sunni-dominated parts of the country.

But some U.S. officials were concerned that the Iraq military's apparent improved recent performance is due to a slowdown in the advance of ISIS forces and that the Sunni militants may be simply be resetting their forces for a larger assault on the capital.

One senior U.S. defense official said ISIS militants were likely to avoid a frontal onslaught on Baghdad or direct engagement with the troops stationed outside the city.

Instead, the official said militants likely would slip in through Sunni neighborhoods, then resume the kind of sectarian attacks that ripped apart Baghdad in 2006. U.S. officials are also worried about the potential of rocket and artillery attacks on Baghdad. ISIS isn't adept enough to precisely fire artillery, but will be able to hit populated areas of Baghdad...
Also at the New York Times, "Iraq’s Military Seen as Unlikely to Turn the Tide":
BAGHDAD — As Iraqi Army forces try to rally on the outskirts of Baghdad after two weeks of retreat, it has become increasingly clear to Western officials that the army will continue to suffer losses in its fight with Sunni militants and will not soon retake the ground it has ceded.

Recent assessments by Western officials and military experts indicate that about a quarter of Iraq’s military forces are “combat ineffective,” its air force is minuscule, morale among troops is low and its leadership suffers from widespread corruption.

As other nations consider whether to support military action in Iraq, their decision will hinge on the quality of Iraqi forces, which have proved far more ragged than expected given years of American training.

Even now, fighters with the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are consolidating their gains, extending their hold on Euphrates River valley towns, securing access routes between their bases in Syria and the front lines in Iraq, and pressuring other Sunni groups to fight with them...