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White House Reassures Iraqi Prime Minister Of Support

  • RFE/RL

Vice President Joe Biden called Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi May 25 to reassure him of U.S. support and praise "the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces."

The call came one day after Defense Secretary Ash Carter provoked a tart response from the prime minister by sharply criticizing Iraqi forces defending Ramadi from takeover by the Islamic State.

"The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight," Carter told CNN's "State of the Union" program May 24. "They vastly outnumbered the opposing force and yet they withdrew from the site."

Abadi, in an interview with the BBC, refuted Carter's "surprising" characterization, which came asIraq mounted a counteroffensive May 24 and took some towns on the road to Ramadi.

"I am sure he was fed with the wrong information," he said. An Abadi spokesman added that "we should not judge the whole army based on one incident."

The White House acknowledged the need to patch things up with Abadi, who President Obama has sought to build a positive relationship with despite tension over the U.S. role in the country.

"We know the Iraqi retreat [from Ramadi] followed an intense wave of suicide bombings. The reference to lack of will was in relation to this specific episode," said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The Iraqis have suffered setbacks before and were able to retake territory from ISIL, such as in Baghdadi in western Anbar," said the official.

Biden said he welcomed an Iraqi decision to mobilize additional troops and "prepare for counterattack operations," pledging full U.S. support to "these and other Iraqi efforts to liberate territory" from the militants, the White House said in a statement.

The heated exchange over Ramadi provoked a pointed criticism of the U.S. military from a top Iranian official, laying bare the deep hostilities among countries that have become allies of convenience in the fight against the Islamic State.

"Under the pretext of supporting the Iraqi nation against the IS, their [US] forces are stationed just a few kilometers away from
Ramadi and they don't do a damn thing," Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds forces in Iran's Revolutionary Guard, told the Iran's Mehr News Agency.

"How shall we interpret this? Is this not a clear indication that they have no determination to fight the IS?"

Iran has offered advisers, including Soleimani, to direct Shiite militias fighting against the extremists. Iran has said it does not have combat troops fighting in Iraq, though some Revolutionary Guard members have been killed there.

The U.S. military currently has 3,040 U.S. personnel in Iraq, including 2,240 providing support to the Iraqi security forces through logistics, training, advising and other mission-support activities.

Despite the attempt to distance the White House from Carter's remarks, his assessment was comparable to one from Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, last week: "The ISF was not driven out of Ramadi. They drove out of Ramadi."

The Abadi spokesman said the government believes the fall of Ramadi was due to mismanagement and poor planning by some senior military commanders in charge. He did not elaborate, however, and no action has been taken against those commanders.

Baghdad has been promising a large-scale counteroffensive to regain lost ground in Iraq's vast western province of Anbar.

Abadi told the BBC Iraqi forces would take back Ramadi "in days" despite attacks from militants using "armored trucks packed with explosives."

In the first surge of the counteroffensive May 24, Iraqi forces supported by Iran-backed Shi'ite militia and locally recruited Sunni tribal fighters retook parts of al-Tash, a town 20 kilometers south of Ramadi.

Pro-government Sunni tribal fighters, with the help of the army, laid land mines to reinforce their defensive lines around Baghdadi, a settlement northwest of Ramadi that controls access to a major Iraqi air base.

The Islamic State had attacked Baghdadi with seven suicide car bombs May 24.

The group's failure to dislodge government forces prompted militant leaders to call in reinforcements, who were bussed in by the dozens to Ramadi May 25.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, CNN, dpa, and BBC