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U.S. To Deliver Antitank Weapons As Criticism Of Iraq Strategy Grows

  • RFE/RL

The United States will deliver 1,000 antitank weapons to Iraq in June to combat Islamic State suicide bombings like those that helped the group seize Ramadi, a senior U.S. State Department official said May 20.

The move came amid rising Republican criticism of the White House's handling of the war against IS, and an admission by top U.S. officials that they must take a "hard look" at their Iraq strategy in light of the "significant setback" in Ramadi.

A pivotal development in Ramadi was the militants' use of a "formidable and enormous" series of suicide bombings to penetrate the city's defenses, said a top U.S. official who requested anonymity.

A bulldozer packed with explosives was used to blow up the security perimeter around a central compound still held by government forces. Then, some 30 vehicles such as Humvees flowed in, 10 of which were each carrying enough bomb-making materials to carry out explosions as massive as the 1995 blast in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people in a federal office building.

There were "gigantic explosions that took out entire city blocks," said one official. "These enormous suicide [vehicle-embedded bombs are] something that we have to help the Iraqis, and our partners in Syria, defeat."

The antitank weapons can help stop such attacks in the future, and that is why Washington is speeding up delivery after having agreed to provide the weapons when Iraq's prime minister visited in April, the official said.

The move came out of the White House's rethink of its Iraq strategy, which involves a near-constant barrage of air strikes against IS along with on-the-ground training for Iraqi soldiers by a few thousand U.S. troops.

"You'd have to be delusional not to take something like this and say 'what went wrong, how do you fix it and how do we correct course to go from here?'," the official told a few foreign policy reporters.

"And that's exactly what we're doing. Taking an extremely hard look at it."

The Obama administration has faced severe criticism from Republicans and an array of foreign policy experts since the fall over the weekend of strategically important Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's largest province of Anbar in the Sunni-dominated west of the country.

Former defense secretary Robert Gates said the administration's approach is simply not working.

"We don't really have a strategy at all. We're basically playing this day by day," he told MSNBC May 20. "Right now, it looks like they're (Iraq) going the way of Yugoslavia."

Jeb Bush, former President George W. Bush's brother and a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, noted that the Islamic State did not exist when Bush was president, and he left Iraq in better condition than it is today after having largely defeated al-Qaeda in Iraq through a surge of U.S. combat troops at the end of his term.

"The surge created a fragile but stable Iraq that [President Obama] could have built on," Bush told supporters in New Hampshire. Obama has no strategy to "take out" IS and "restore some stability in Iraq."

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP