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Aktham Saif al-Din

Iraq: Army losses make US military return more likely

Iraqi troops are suffering significant losses on the battlefield [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 September, 2015

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Analysis: The Iraqi army and militias supporting it cannot hold off the Islamic State group, leading many within the ruling National Alliance to soften positions towards a US ground intervention.
Two months after renewed military operations in Anbar began, the Iraqi army and the militias supporting it have not made any significant progress.

The Islamic State group has recaptured the city of Baiji, as well as Samarra Island in Salahuddin province, and there is reluctance in the effort to liberate Mosul.

A prominent member of Iraq's ruling National Alliance has also revealed to al-Araby al-Jadeed that the positions of several political leaders within the pro-Iranian party have "softened" towards a US ground intervention and increasing the support Washington gives to Iraqis in the "war on terror".

The source said that leaders of the National Alliance had overcome divisions regarding the presence of US troops on independent US military bases in Iraq, saying that the number of supporters is now greater than the number of those who reject intervention.

This change of heart, the source added, happened during a recent meeting which included Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and representatives from the Supreme Council, Badr, the Sadrists, the State of Law coalition, the Islamic Virtue Party, and independents.

The source attributes the shift in opinion to a rise in the daily losses among the ranks of the Iraqi army, and the enormous pressure on the state's budget - without efforts achieving significant results.

"IS has proven to be a strong force with strong planning power in battle, that has overtaken the abilities of the Iraqi Army and the Popular Mobilisation militia," an Iraqi colonel told al-Araby on condition of anonymity.
IS has proven to be a strong force with strong planning power

"Iraqi forces need continuous air support from [international] alliance aircraft, as they were unable to make any progress without the alliance's airstrikes," the colonel added.

"Lack of coordination between the two sides, particularly in Anbar and Baiji, have given IS a chance to advance and move to our disadvantage."

The colonel said there was confusion within the ranks of security forces after the majority of the Popular Mobilisation factions pulled out of the battle.

"The Popular Mobilisation was armed and equipped at the expense of the security forces, and its withdrawal from the battlefield leaves behind a large gap that cannot be filled by the security forces, particularly with the lack of arms," the colonel explained.

"Minister of Defence Khaled al-Obaidi has been recently talking to Abadi to bring back the Popular Mobilisation into the battles to back up the army, or to distribute their weapons among the army and other forces to try and continue with the momentum of the battle," the colonel added.

Iraqi forces have "turned into defensive forces on most fronts, as they have become almost completely incapable of carrying out any attacks", he added.
Iraqi forces have become weak today and are even incapable of maintaining their defensive positions
- Mohammad Nadhim, Salahuddin Provincial Council

Mohammad Nadhim, a member of the Security Committee in Salahuddin Provincial Council said: "IS has started to fortify itself in the sites that it had controlled lately in Baiji in Salahuddin province, ready for a new advance."

Nadhim told al-Araby: "Iraqi forces have become weak today and are even incapable of maintaining their defensive positions following the withdrawal of the Popular Mobilisation with all their arms."

Coordination with the international alliance's air forces is needed to bolster the Iraqi forces, he said, "or else we will not be able to hold off the [IS] organisation".

Abadi had recently called for a new plan that would mainly "depend on the army and the other security forces, coordination with the international alliance, and arming the forces with the weapons of the Popular Mobilisation that had withdrawn to Baghdad".

Abadi had also warned of "the danger of the situation in Salahuddin and the danger of IS breaking into Tikrit again".

Kirkuk MP Khaled al-Mafraji, meanwhile, told al-Araby: "Liberating areas controlled by IS needs support from the American side."

"Attacking IS needs preparation, arms and equipment", Mafraji said, calling on Washington to "arm and equip volunteers to fight IS".

Another parliamentarian who requested anonymity said it was likely that US forces would start returning to Iraq by the end of this year if no progress was made against IS.

"Washington has informed the government that it is ready to help Iraqis in any way they choose to eliminate terrorists, so we expect the US to respond to any Iraqi request in this regard," the MP added.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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