Iraqi army still not ready for prime time

The operation by the Iraqi army and Shia militias to retake the town of Tikrit from Islamic State forces has stalled due to heavy casualties and disagreement over tactics.

Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, was attacked 2 weeks ago by 30,000 Iraqis. It is believed Islamic State has just a few hundred fighters in the town when the operation began.

McClatchy:

The much ballyhooed Iraqi government operation to capture the central city of Tikrit from the Islamic State has stalled three weeks after it began, amid widespread reports that Shiite Muslim militias and the government are badly divided over tactics and roiled by claims that the militias have engaged in war crimes against the local Sunni Muslim population.

A two-day pause supposedly intended to give the Iraqi government time to bring up reinforcements has stretched into a week, as reports circulate that Iraqi government troops and the militias took heavier than anticipated casualties in their first efforts to dislodge Islamic State fighters. At least 1,000 militiamen died in the early days of fighting, according to some reports, roughly 5 percent of the 20,000 men the militias have committed to the operation.

Even during the pause, pro-government casualties remain high. A witness in the main government hospital at the nearby city of Samarra said that at least 100 dead or wounded fighters had been brought in over the last four days and that “bodies are everywhere” at the facility. The witness asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

Difficulties with the Tikrit operation underscore how unlikely it is that the Iraqi military will be in any position soon to launch an assault to recapture Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which fell to the Islamic State last June. A U.S. military officer in February created a stir when he told reporters at the Pentagon that such an assault might come as soon as April. Pentagon officials later acknowledged that Iraqi troops might not be in such a position before the fall.

How to proceed in Tikrit has left the government and the militias split. Iraqi officials say a full frontal assault against the Islamic State forces might succeed but would come at a heavy cost. Commanders of Iraq’s special operation forces, which would lead such a charge, are opposed to it.

The Shia militias are gung ho for a frontal assault seeing that their holy men have told them if they die in battle against IS, they die a martyr. But the Iraqi government knows that hundreds of civilian casualties - the bulk of them Sunnis - would add fuel to an already raging fire of sectarian violence. The US won't lift a finger to help in this operation, which is the smart play considering the bloody massacres being committed by Shias against Sunnis.

If the Iraqi army is going to have any credibility at all, it is going to have to take Tikrit. After committing so many resources to the operation, walking away now would be devastating to morale and show that little progress has been made in reconsituting the Iraqi army as a viable fighting force.

 

The operation by the Iraqi army and Shia militias to retake the town of Tikrit from Islamic State forces has stalled due to heavy casualties and disagreement over tactics.

Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, was attacked 2 weeks ago by 30,000 Iraqis. It is believed Islamic State has just a few hundred fighters in the town when the operation began.

McClatchy:

The much ballyhooed Iraqi government operation to capture the central city of Tikrit from the Islamic State has stalled three weeks after it began, amid widespread reports that Shiite Muslim militias and the government are badly divided over tactics and roiled by claims that the militias have engaged in war crimes against the local Sunni Muslim population.

A two-day pause supposedly intended to give the Iraqi government time to bring up reinforcements has stretched into a week, as reports circulate that Iraqi government troops and the militias took heavier than anticipated casualties in their first efforts to dislodge Islamic State fighters. At least 1,000 militiamen died in the early days of fighting, according to some reports, roughly 5 percent of the 20,000 men the militias have committed to the operation.

Even during the pause, pro-government casualties remain high. A witness in the main government hospital at the nearby city of Samarra said that at least 100 dead or wounded fighters had been brought in over the last four days and that “bodies are everywhere” at the facility. The witness asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

Difficulties with the Tikrit operation underscore how unlikely it is that the Iraqi military will be in any position soon to launch an assault to recapture Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which fell to the Islamic State last June. A U.S. military officer in February created a stir when he told reporters at the Pentagon that such an assault might come as soon as April. Pentagon officials later acknowledged that Iraqi troops might not be in such a position before the fall.

How to proceed in Tikrit has left the government and the militias split. Iraqi officials say a full frontal assault against the Islamic State forces might succeed but would come at a heavy cost. Commanders of Iraq’s special operation forces, which would lead such a charge, are opposed to it.

The Shia militias are gung ho for a frontal assault seeing that their holy men have told them if they die in battle against IS, they die a martyr. But the Iraqi government knows that hundreds of civilian casualties - the bulk of them Sunnis - would add fuel to an already raging fire of sectarian violence. The US won't lift a finger to help in this operation, which is the smart play considering the bloody massacres being committed by Shias against Sunnis.

If the Iraqi army is going to have any credibility at all, it is going to have to take Tikrit. After committing so many resources to the operation, walking away now would be devastating to morale and show that little progress has been made in reconsituting the Iraqi army as a viable fighting force.