Iraq PM Rebuts U.S. Criticism of Security Forcesإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Iraq on Monday rejected accusations by the U.S. defense chief that its security forces dodged battle in Ramadi and lack the will to fight the Islamic State group.
Pentagon chief Ashton Carter argued that the May 17 fall of Ramadi, the worst defeat Baghdad has suffered in almost a year, could have been avoided.
"We have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves," he told CNN on Sunday, using one of the acronyms referring to the Islamic State organisation.
Washington has been one of Baghdad's key partners in the war to reclaim the ground lost to IS last year and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi expressed disbelief at Ashton's stinging comments.
"I'm surprised why he said that. I mean, he was very supportive of Iraq. I am sure he was fed with the wrong information," Abadi told the BBC.
The loss of Ramadi, capital of Iraq's largest province Anbar, raised questions over the strategy adopted not only by Baghdad but also by Washington to tackle IS.
Months of air strikes and the deployment of advisers to reform and train the security forces have failed to keep up with IS's aggressive tactics.
"Secretary Carter's remarks are surprising and likely to negatively affect the morale of the ISF," Iraq analyst Ahmed Ali said, using the acronym for the Iraqi security forces.
Ali, a visiting senior fellow at the Education for Peace in Iraq Centre, argued there were several examples of Iraqi forces showing plenty of grit and cited the Baiji refinery, where elite troops have repelled relentless IS attacks for months.
After a year of fighting and despite a string of territorial losses, the jihadists' will to fight, on the other hand, was never really in doubt.
IS is a trim fighting force which has time and again displayed great tactical skill and whose men see death on the battlefield as the ultimate reward.
- Ramadi fightback imminent -
Abadi has had to change tack as a result of Ramadi's fall and to call in the Hashed al-Shaabi force which he and Washington had wanted to keep out of the Sunni stronghold of Anbar.
The Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella for Iran-backed Shiite militia and volunteers, has deployed en masse to take part in a planned operation to recapture Ramadi.
"It makes my heart bleed because we lost Ramadi but I can assure you we can bring it back soon," Abadi told the BBC.
Iraqi regular forces backed by the Hashed and Sunni tribal fighters from Anbar have begun clawing back land east of Ramadi over the past few days.
Abadi said the major counteroffensive in Anbar would be launched in a matter of days.
The capture of Ramadi together with the IS takeover of Palmyra in eastern Syria last week has consolidated the jihadists' grip on the heart of their self-proclaimed caliphate.
IS jihadists in different parts of Syria's Homs province have executed 67 civilians and 150 members of regime forces since May 16, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said whole families had been executed, including children with their parents, after Syrian state media said IS had carried out a "massacre" in Palmyra, slaughtering some 400 civilians.
Syrian regime aircraft launched at least 15 strikes in and around Palymra on Monday, the most intense raids since the jihadists overran the city on Thursday, the Britain-based monitor reported.
On Sunday, IS forces also crossed from Syria with two suicide car bombs to attack the Iraqi side of the southern border crossing.
Iraqi border guards promptly retreated to a nearby crossing with Jordan, arguing they had repeatedly called for reinforcements, in vain.
In Diyala province, which the government claimed to have cleared of IS fighters in January, eight bombs went off almost simultaneously early Sunday, security sources said.
Intelligence had been received of a possible wave of bomb attacks and only 14 people were wounded in the blasts in the towns of Baquba and Baladruz, a senior official said.
A top official said he feared more attacks and said Baquba was sealed off as a precaution.