The fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province certainly had its curious aspects. The collapse of the Iraq defence led to a very rapid and forthright denunciation by the US Defense Secretary to the effect that the Iraqi Army showed that it lacked the will to fight, a proposition which was hotly contested by Hakim al-Zamili, the head of Iraq’s Parliamentary Defence and Security Committee, who said the US should bear much of the blame for the fall of Ramadi, for its failure to provide “good equipment, weapons and aerial support” to the soldiers. What Ashton Carter’s critique failed to explain is how, if the Iraqi soldiers lacked the will to fight, the battle for Ramadi lasted 18 months with Iraqi forces fighting off IS advances while suffering casualties in the thousands. Someone is not telling us the whole story.
The setback at Ramadi is not without its relevance to the Australian Army deployment to Iraq. In an article in The Australian on 22 May Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen had this to say:
The spin doctors are already playing down the fall of Ramadi. But on the ground — where things are harder to fake — it’s correctly seen as a huge defeat.
Al-Asad air base (80km to the northwest of Ramadi and home to several thousand US trainers and advisers) is now isolated by road from the rest of Anbar, though not under siege. Iraqi forces are in disarray along the whole Fallujah-Ramadi corridor, and Haditha is the only significant city in government hands along the length of the Euphrates River west of Baghdad.
Towns such as Taji, where more than 300 Australians and 140 New Zealanders are based, are looking precarious. Assurances that trainers will remain “behind the wire” — safely ensconced in defended bases — sound less soothing now that Islamic State has seized an entire city, overrunning several such bases, less than 100km away.