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Analysis // IraqIraqi army lacks “moral cohesion,” “will to fight” ISIS: U.K., U.S. defense officials

Published 26 May 2015

Maj. Gen. Tim Cross, the most senior British officer to be involved in postwar planning in Iraq, pointedly said that although the Iraqi military outnumbered ISIS by a wide margin, this military lacks “moral cohesion” and effective leadership required to fight and defeat Islamic State forces. Cross’s words echo comments made over the weekend by Ashton Carter, the U.S. defense secretary that, recent gains by ISIS fighters in Iraq were the result of the Iraqi army not having the “will to fight.” Military analysts say that the unexpected collapse of Iraqi forces in Ramadi, forces which included elite counterterrorism troops from Iraq’s Golden Division, indicate that the Iraqi forces may be weaker than many in the U.S. government had assumed. There is a deeper issue here, though, as the Obama administration is facing a broader challenge in the war against the Islamic State in the Middle East: Finding reliable and dedicated partners. This is especially difficult when it comes to recruiting Sunni partners. Few, if any, Sunnis would agree to fight ISIS if such a fight would mean the strengthening of Shi’a groups. Thus, in Iraq, Sunni tribesmen have been unwilling to fight the Islamic State on behalf of a Shi’a-dominated government in Baghdad, and in Syria, moderate Syrian rebel groups, both secular and Islamist, are reluctant to fight ISIS if such fighting means strengthening the Alawite Assad regime.

Maj. Gen. Tim Cross, the most senior British officer to be involved in postwar planning in Iraq, pointedly said that although the Iraqi military outnumbered ISIS by a wide margin, this military lacks “moral cohesion” and effective leadership required to fight and defeat Islamic State forces.

Cross’s words echo comments made over the weekend by Ashton Carter, the U.S. defense secretary that, recent gains by ISIS fighters in Iraq were the result of the Iraqi army not having the “will to fight.”

Cross, speaking to the BBC’s Today program, said: “It’s interesting that the secretary used that [will to fight] expression because we use that expression in the British army and our argument is that it’s about a moral cohesion in your army.

“It’s about the motivation to achieve what it is you’re setting out to achieve and it’s about effective leadership … and it’s this will to fight that I think is fundamentally at the heart of the issue with the Iraqi military.

“There’s no cohesion, there’s no strong leadership,” he said. “They’re really struggling and I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”

The Guardian reports that ten days ago, Iraqi forces outnumbered ISIS fighters in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province — but hastily withdrew, in the process abandoning large quantities of U.S.-supplied arms, including vehicles and tanks.

Carter told CNN on Sunday: “What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. That says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight [Isis] and defend themselves.”

Iraqi officials were furious with Carter’s assessment. Hakim al-Zamili, head of Iraq’s parliamentary defense and security committee, sad Carter’s comments as “unrealistic and baseless.” He charged that the United States had failed to provide “good equipment, weapons and aerial support” to the Iraqi soldiers, and that the United States was now looking to “throw the blame on somebody else.”

Cross said on Monday: “Churchill said back at the beginning of the twentieth century, you can destroy an army very quickly, and effectively we did that when we disbanded the Iraqi military back in 2003, but … it can take a generation to build a strong capable military that is going to win this sort of campaign.